Tuesday, 23 June 2020

PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES BILL UPDATE

The Public Bill Committee is presently taking evidence in relation to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 and on Thursday will begin line-by-line scrutiny of the proposed legislation.

I have today written to the Committee about Cornwall, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the threat of a cross-Tamar “Devonwall” constituency.

The full letter was as follows:

PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES BILL

It is my understanding that the Public Bill Committee is willing to receive written evidence as part of its scrutiny of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 and I would be grateful if MPs on the Committee could consider the points in this representation.

I am writing this letter in a personal capacity, but I am the leader of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall and I also chair Cornwall Council’s cross-party working group on national minority status.

Cornwall is a historic nation, with its own culture, traditions and language, while the Cornish are recognised as a national minority. This places many obligations on the UK Government and, with this in mind, it is my hope that MPs will wish to ensure that the Cornish border which has been in existence for more than one thousand years is respected in all future boundary reviews and no cross-Tamar seats will be created.

The last Boundary Review

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act was passed in 2011. It put in place a process to reduce the number of MPs to 600 and ensure that all seats (except for four named examples) would be within 5% of the average UK electorate. This meant that it was statistically impossible to ensure that all Cornish constituencies would lie entirely within the boundaries of Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly).

When the “Boundary Commission for England” published its proposals for new constituency boundaries, it inevitably included a “Devonwall” parliamentary seat. This caused considerable upset in Cornwall. Hundreds and hundreds of people opposed the new seat and there was even a protest at Polson Bridge on the Cornish border.

Since the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act (2011) came into being, there has been a significant development. The UK Government has recognised the Cornish as a national minority. This alone should lead MPs to ensure that the new legislation includes a clause or clauses to protect Cornish territoriality.

The possibility of a “Devonwall” seat

Whereas the previous boundary review proposed a “Devonwall” constituency, I would acknowledge that a new review carried out in the near future (on the basis of 650 MPs and Cornwall’s present electorate) might not lead to the recommendation of a cross-Tamar constituency.

But the legislation states that a fresh boundary review should be carried out every eight years and, if Cornwall’s population does continue to grow, it would only be a matter of time before the likelihood of a Devonwall constituency arises once again.

It is my view that the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 could and should categorically rule out such a scenario.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

On 24th April 2014, the UK Government recognised the Cornish people through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The official press release stated that “the decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status … as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.”

As well as protecting the culture and identity of national minorities, the Framework Convention also seeks to protect the political integrity of territories associated with such groups.

An Advisory Committee from the Council of Europe visited the United Kingdom in March 2016 to assess how the UK Government and other public bodies were complying with the articles of the Framework Convention. The subsequent opinion published in 2017 raised a range of concerns about public policy in the UK, which including the review into parliamentary constituencies at that time, that it felt would adversely affect the Cornish national minority.

It is my view that the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21, as presently drafted, is in conflict with the spirit and intent of the Framework Convention, and the Bill needs to be revised in order to address that conflict.

If the UK Parliament fails to amend the Bill, it will be failing to meet its obligations with regard to the Framework Convention. I would hope that MPs would want to ensure that it properly acts on the commitments that have been made by the UK Government.

A Boundary Commission for Cornwall

The Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 ensures that the territories of other national minorities within the United Kingdom (namely the Scots, the Welsh and Northern Irish) are safeguarded and no seats can be proposed which would cross the land borders between England and Scotland or England and Wales. This will principally be achieved through the existence of different Boundary Commissions (for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) which mean that there is no scenario in which cross-border seats between these four nations could be created.

It is therefore illogical that Cornwall – the territory of another national minority – is not treated in the same manner.

It is my view that it would be best to create a separate Boundary Commission to agree the future parliamentary constituencies for Cornwall. This would ensure that Cornwall’s national border is permanently safeguarded.

Protected constituencies

Just like the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act (2011), the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 includes the four “protected constituencies” of Orkney and Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and the Isle of Wight (2 seats).

One option for MPs would be to amend the Bill in order ensure that all Cornish constituencies would lie entirely within the boundaries of Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly).

Please do the right thing for Cornwall

It is my hope that MPs will amend the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 in order to respect the Framework Convention and Keep Cornwall Whole.

Monday, 22 June 2020

SPEAK CORNISH WEEK



In my column for this week’s Cornish Guardian, I have written about the importance of Cornish and the need for better support from the UK Government and bodies such as the BBC.

It is as follows – Cornish first and English second:

Seythen rag Kows Kernewek yw ha my a wayt hemma dhe gennertha pobel dhe hwithra moy a-dro dhe yeth kenedhlek Kernow. 

An vledhen ma, y fydh nerth fogellys a-dro dhe vedia sosyel, korsow warlinen ha keskussulya-gwydheo awos bos goredhom yagh, mes hwath yma lies chons dyski nebes lavaryow ha godhvos moy a-dro dhe studhya Kernewek. 

Y’n eur ma, y karsen vy godhvos gras a bub bodhek usi ow kul ober marthys da rag dyski an yeth ha’gan gweres merkya an rann meur a vri ma a’gan ertach. 

Rag drehevel war an ober ma, res yw dhe’n yeth kavos moy skoodhyans dyworth governans kresek ha korfow kepar ha’n BBC. 

Diskudhus yw, pan erviras an Governans RU kavos tamm skrif arwedhyek dyworth yethow Keltek RU yn y dremengummyas nowydh glas – Kernewek o skonys bos aswonys. An skrif aral o marnas yn Kembrek, Albanek hag Iwerdhonek. 

Gweth ages henna, an Chartour Riel BBC a ambos dhe “skoodhya an yethow ranndirel mynorita a’n RU” mes y hwra nagha Kernewek yn arbennek. An rol a yethow mynorita BBC yw; “Kembrek, Albanek, Iwerdhonek hag Ulster-Skotts.” 

An seythen ma, yth esov vy ow skrifa dhe’n Governans RU ha BBC yn unn hwilas skoodhyans gwella rag an yeth kernewek, honanieth ha gonisogeth.


It is Speak Cornish Week and I hope that this will encourage many people to find out more about Cornwall’s national language.

This year’s efforts will be focussed around social media, online courses and video-conferencing because of the health emergency, but there are still plenty of opportunities to learn some phrases or find out more about studying Cornish.

At this time, I would like to pay tribute to all the volunteers who are doing so much fantastic work to teach the language and help us to celebrate this important part of our heritage.

To build on this work, we need the language to have greater support from central government and bodies such as the BBC.

It is quite telling that when the UK Government decided to include some symbolic text from the UK’s Celtic languages in its new blue passport – it snubbed Cornish. The extra text was only in Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic.

Even worse, the BBC’s Royal Charter promises to “support the regional and minority languages of the UK” but specifically excludes Cornish. The BBC’s list of minority languages is “Welsh, Scottish-Gaelic, Irish and Ulster Scots.”

This week, I will be writing to the UK Government and the BBC seeking better support for the Cornish language, identity and culture.

My latest report to St Enoder Parish Council


My latest report to St Enoder Parish Council will be presented to a "virtual" meeting tomorrow night. It covers the period 24th February – 21st June 2020 and is as follows:

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I normally produce a monthly report for each meeting of St Enoder Parish Council but, because of the health emergency, my last report was presented to a meeting in February.

This report covers the last four months and will be presented to the “virtual” meeting of the Parish Council taking place on 23rd June.

1.0 Council and other meetings

Prior to the lockdown, I attended a number of formal meetings and briefings at Cornwall Council and elsewhere (24th February – 17th March). These included Full Council, Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee, a workshop on the Council’s environmental growth strategy and a briefing for the Electoral Review Panel (ERP), which is carrying out a Community Governance Review (into the boundaries of parishes). As vice-chairman of the ERP, I was present at a further meeting with officials from the Local Government Boundary Commission and I also attended three related public meetings in St Austell, Newquay and Pool.

In addition, I participated in a mock council meeting with a group of young women as part of International Womens Day.

I attended a meeting of the Parish Council’s working group on climate change and I joined with an officer from Cornwall Council to give a presentation about neighbourhood planning at a meeting of Probus Parish Council.

My last meeting prior to the lockdown was the local VE Day Committee, which had to cancel the events planned for 8th and 10th May.

2.0 Indian Queens School visit to New County Hall

On 11th March, I was pleased to welcome two classes from Indian Queens School to Cornwall Council. The children did some budget exercises and asked me (and two other councillors) a series of questions. The children were very inquisitive but also well behaved, and they are a credit to our local area.

3.0 Meetings in lockdown

When the UK Government announced the lockdown on 23rd March, it became necessary for me to thereafter participate in numerous virtual meetings through Microsoft Teams or Zoom video-conferencing.

As one of the group leaders on the unitary authority, I have taken part in a large number of meetings with the leadership of the authority, senior officers and the other group leaders, to discuss the Council’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Initially, there were two meetings a week but this has now been reduced to one. Also, once a week, the six councillors from the China Clay Area hold a meeting to share our experiences and discuss local initiatives. Other virtual meetings have included a Clay Area community hub, an update meeting for the Community Governance Review and briefings for the Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee. In recent weeks, there have also been weekly briefings about the crisis for all councillors on the Council.

4.0 St Enoder Parish Council

The Parish Council meeting on 24th March was cancelled and responsibility for day-to-day matters was delegated to the Clerk, Chairman, Vice-chairman and me as the local Cornwall Councillor.

We have followed government advice and closed local play areas and cemeteries, though the burial grounds were quickly re-opened when the UK Government re-interpreted its own guidance.

The play areas are still shut, but at Indian Queens Recreation Ground children can use the skate park and kick-about area as long as they practice social distancing. The skatepark at Summercourt is presently out-of-bounds as it cannot be accessed except through the play area. We are however monitoring government guidance on a daily basis and will update local people when things change though the Parish Council Facebook page and website.

During this time, the Parish Council has been carrying out some works in the new extended part of Indian Queens Cemetery, in advance of the road and path that will hopefully be laid in there later in the year.

The Parish Council has also had to comment on a range of planning applications being considered by the unitary authority and comments were collated via email.

5.0 Volunteer activities

In late March, the Clerk of St Enoder Parish Council (Amanda Kendall) and I were registered as the local parish hub with Volunteer Cornwall. We agreed to co-ordinate responses to issues that were brought to our attention by the charity, as well as those concerns that we might identify locally.

It would be fair to say that we have received fewer requests for help than we anticipated and we have not had to call on many of the individuals who had volunteered to help. I believe this is because of the large number of people who have reached out to their friends and neighbours at this time, helping to collect groceries or keep in touch via telephone. The Facebook page called “the little things that matter” has been particularly effective at bringing people together and everyone associated with the page should be commended for their fine efforts.

I was pleased to be able to link with the St Columb Road Surgery and to be one of five volunteers who have delivered prescriptions to people who are shielding or deemed vulnerable. This has been ongoing on a daily basis since 1st April. Most residents in the west of the Parish are served by the Probus Surgery and prescriptions have been delivered by Andrew Waters.

I have also dealt with numerous inquiries during the lockdown which has included concerns about the furloughing scheme, the coverage of the small business grant scheme and problems with the availability of PPE.

6.0 Neighbourhood Plan

As reported previously, the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan was submitted to Cornwall Council last year and it then went through examination by an inspector. It was due to go to referendum this year, but this has been delayed because of health emergency.

We have received guidance that “no referendums can take place until 6th May 2021. This includes neighbourhood planning referendums” and that “current planning guidance has updated and sets out that neighbourhood plans awaiting referendums can be given significant weight in decision-making.”

7.0 Planning matters

Throughout the last four months, a large number of planning applications have been submitted to the unitary authority. A number of these have led to objections from local residents. I have been liaising with planning officers on these matters and decisions have yet to be made on many of these applications. Examples of the cases I am dealing with are as follows:

7.1 Indian Queens Industrial Estate (PA19/05975)

Last year, there was considerable opposition to a proposal to create a new access, from Moorland Road, into Unit 2 of Indian Queens Industrial Estate for an area of additional car parking. The Parish Council and I argued that vehicular access to the various employment units should be through the central Lodge Way road within the estate. No decision has yet been taken on this application, but the applicants have secured additional car parking off Lodge Way which I believe undermines the whole basis of their application.

7.2 Land on approach to Clodan Mews, St Columb Road (PA19/08162)

A number of local residents raised concerns about this application for two dwellings on the land associated with the old Vet’s building. I shared these concerns and suggested that there should be a less cramped development on the site such as a single dwelling. It would normally have been referred to a planning committee but, at the end of May, it went through an “emergency planning protocol” when information about the application was circulated to members of the Central Sub-Area Planning Committee for comment. In spite of my objections, the plans were passed

7.3 Land adjacent to Lindsay Fields, Fraddon (PA20/01508)

Planning permission already exists for 23 dwelling in this site and the owner has submitted a new application to instead build 20 residential units of which five will be affordable. The Parish Council has supported this application which in principle is in accord with the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan, but has asked the planning officer to look carefully at any local concerns about drainage or boundaries.

7.4 Carvynick Holiday Park, Summercourt (PA20/02147)

In 2019, a government planning inspector granted planning permission (PA18/04360) for 38 residential dwellings and a leisure building at this site. This latest application is a reserved matters application, which sets out the details for 16 of the 38 housing units, but does not include details for the leisure building. The Parish Council has raised concerns that the leisure building promised by the applicants might not be developed.

7.5 Land to rear of Manor Drive in Fraddon (PA20/02308)

The application is for a large storage building, measuring 21m by 10m, plus associated groundworks. The Parish Council has raised an objection, as the development extends into green fields and is against policies in the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan.

7.6 St Columb Road (PA20/02929)

An application for fifty houses has been submitted for the land to the rear of the development presently being built opposite the doctors’ surgery. A large number of people have objected to the scheme on Cornwall Council’s website, by telephone to me or parish councillors, or via Facebook.

The Parish Council has objected to this development on a wide range of grounds. This includes the extent of development in St Enoder Parish in recent years, queries about the basis of the indicative proposed scheme, traffic concerns, insufficient parking and adverse landscape impacts.

The development is supposed to be an exception site on which at least 50% of the housing would be affordable. But the affordable housing team have submitted a very strong objection to the scheme, which it says is not in accord with the policies of Cornwall Council. It notes that the “gross internal floorspace of the affordable housing is indicated as being equivalent to just 33.7% of the total floor area of all units across the scheme. This indicates that the total land-take of the affordable housing would be significantly less than the minimum 50% requirement.”

The proposal has a clear imbalance with more of the affordable homes being flats or smaller houses, while more of the open-market properties would be larger houses. The developer has suggested that the affordable units should be 13 one-bed flats, 9 two-bed houses and 3 three-bed houses, while the open-market units would be 4 one-bed flats, 7 two-bed houses and 11 three-bed houses and 3 four-bed properties.

7.7 Little Meadows, Toldish (PA20/03553)

In 2014, a caravan park was constructed on their site without planning permission. Two subsequent planning applications were refused and Cornwall Council look legal action to get the site cleared. In 2017, a planning application (PA17/03198) for six traveller pitches was also refused by Cornwall Council, but it was then granted on appeal by a government planning inspector in 2018.

The six pitches have yet to be constructed and the owner has submitted this application to increase the size of the site to 12 pitches.

The Parish Council has objected to the development. It has challenged the basis of the “needs assessment” for traveller sites and has suggested that a development of this scale would be out of keeping with the character of the area.

8.0 Ongoing projects

The present circumstances mean that many council officers have been focusing on various aspects of the response to Covid-19 while others have been carrying on with their existing projects, albeit from home. Somewhat inevitably, we are seeing delays to various initiatives.

I have continued to liaise with various teams at the unitary authority and I can give the following updates.

8.1 New footway from Harvenna Heights estate


The construction of a new pathway across the field between Indian Queens School and the Harvenna Heights estate is still planned to go ahead. As previously reported, the majority of the field will be fenced off for recreation use by the School and the remainder of the field will be transferred to the ownership of the Parish Council and a path will then be built across this land.

I recently participated in a Zoom meeting with the School about their plans for their recreation space and I am confident that we will soon be able to confirm the exact extent of the land to be enclosed for the School and that transferred to the Parish Council.

8.2 Chapel Road and St Francis Road, Indian Queens

As previously reported, I have been lobbying extremely hard to get Cornwall Council to deliver improvements suggested within the Travel Plan (such as crossings on Chapel Road and St Francis Road), that was produced in association with the planning permission to increase the size of the School.

I can confirm that the Council has just completed a feasibility assessment about the potential for crossings and I am now in contact with senior council officers about how we take this forward.

8.3 Summercourt School


There continues to be a commitment to deliver improvements outside Summercourt School, such as a variable 20 mph limit. This would be funded through the Community Network monies for highway improvements, but no further progress has been made in recent months.

8.4 A3058

Cornwall Council has received funding from central government for improvements along the A3058. As previously reported, I had been seeking specific improvements within Summercourt village itself, such as a permanent vehicle activated sign at the northern entrance into the village and pedestrian crossings linked to the traffic lights on the crossroads. This has been agreed and I have also been able to persuade Cornwall Council to provide an additional vehicle activated sign to face traffic entering Summercourt along St Austell Street.

The lockdown has meant that there has been a delay in finalising the detailed plans for the scheme, but I continue to be in regular contact with the relevant officers.

9.0 Mobile vehicle activated sign

The Parish Council had agreed to purchase a mobile vehicle activated sign which would be moved around the Parish and placed in various areas to record the speed of traffic and to flash to encourage motorists to slow down.

This is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting and we will be making a decision on exactly how we proceed.

10.0 Strategy for the China Clay Area

It is clear that there will be significant economic impacts caused by the lockdown and the UK Government is already looking at how it will be able to support communities and various sectors of the economy. Some early initiatives appear focussed on towns and high streets, and councillors from the China Clay Area are keen to ensure that areas such as ours do not miss out on investment.

The strategy for the parishes of the China Clay Area has been on hold because of the priorities of dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak, but we have identified this as a key priority for the coming days. It will provide an evidence base and more when we are lobbying for support in the future.

11.0 ClayTAWC

It recently dawned on me that ten years ago this month, I became the “acting” chairman of the Clay Area Training and Work Centre at St Dennis. I am still chairman and we should have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of the centre’s opening next month. This has been cancelled for obvious reasons and I guess that instead we will have to celebrate our 21st next year.

12.0 VE Day

Many recent events have been cancelled, including our own Parish’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of VE Day. It was good to see so many people marking the event through decoration or family celebrations at home. I was pleased to share photographs of the local Home Guard battalion and air raid wardens on Facebook, and I was delighted to hear from people who identified some of the men.

13.0 Tour of Britain

Amongst the cancellations was the first phase of 2020’s Tour of Britain cycle race which had been due to take place in Cornwall on 6th September. It will now take place next year on Sunday 5th September 2021. The route from Penzance to Bodmin will be the same, and it will still go along the A3058 through Summercourt.

14.0 Inquiries 

This report has been a summary of my recent activities, but I have helped a wide range of people with localised issues.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Economic ills must not lead to austerity


In my article for today’s Cornish Guardian, I have looked at some evidence on economic performance including severe dips in GDP and I have warned one and all to guard against the imposition of austerity measures, which would heap further harm onto the damage already caused by the ongoing health emergency.

The full article is as follows:

It is not surprising that official figures show the economy of the United Kingdom shrank by a record amount in April, with the Office of National Statistics reporting that gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 20.4% because of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.

A key statistician at the ONS has stated that April’s fall in GDP is three times larger than the record of the previous month (a dip of 5.8%) and “almost ten times larger than the steepest pre-Covid-19 fall.”

The UK Government is now easing the lockdown, more non-essential shops are reopening, and it is working on a range of measures to get the “economy back on its feet.” The Prime Minister has himself said that “confidence will return and you will see a bounce back for the UK.” But there does seem to be inevitability that immediate prospects for the economy do look bleak.

The trans-national Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has predicted that the UK will be hit worse than any other developed country. It has suggested that, in 2020, GDP could contract by 11.5%. Other experts have suggested we face the “worst recession in more than three centuries.”

There are also very strong fears that Cornwall– already one of the poorest parts of the UK – could suffer especially badly.

One particular study from the University of Southampton has assessed the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on towns. It investigated four sectors “most impacted by the economic shutdown” (accommodation, non-food retail, pubs / restaurants, and arts / leisure) and found that five Cornish towns were among the top 20 locations most liable to suffer business failures and job losses.

At this most difficult time, there is considerable speculation about what the “new normal” might look like, and the importance of political decisions about the future direction of government policy cannot be emphasised too greatly.

We should remember that the financial crash of 2007 did significant societal harm and lead to massive cuts to our vital public services. At that time, the banks were provided with a bailout while the general public had to deal with more than a decade of austerity.

Looking ahead, there will be much uncertainty for individuals, families, businesses and communities, but we must guard against more austerity, which would heap further harm onto the damage already caused by the ongoing health emergency.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

“It is too early to be planning holiday breaks …”


My article in this week’s edition of the Cornish Guardian is as follows:

At one of last week’s governmental briefings, the Prime Minister declared that the United Kingdom is "past the peak" of the coronavirus outbreak and we are on the “downward slope.”

He also promised further information on a “roadmap out of lockdown” in the coming days though, to be fair, there was a significant element of caution in what he said. In particular, he identified five key tests that must be satisfied before the current measures could be adjusted.

But I feel there were also mixed messages coming from Mr Johnson. Questioned about tourism in Cornwall, he said that “we can't allow a big influx of tourists” which could “create a second wave of the disease," but also added “we've got to get tourism going again."

Overall, I find myself more comfortable with the language and positioning of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. She has rightly acknowledged that progress has been made, but has pointed out that being “past the peak” does not mean we are past the point of danger. In a tweet, she wrote “progress is fragile and if we ease up it will be reversed … we need to encourage maximum compliance with current restrictions.”

At this time of ongoing lockdown, it remains my view that the UK Government needs to carry on taking a very strong position in terms of non-essential travel, especially over long distances.

The Police and other public bodies have been doing a great job in monitoring the roads, but it is disturbing to hear so many reports about people failing to respect government regulations.

It was quite unbelievable that one family thought it was acceptable to travel 265 miles from Surrey to St Ives to visit the seaside.

Public safety is the over-riding priority and it is much too early for individuals and families to be planning holidays or visits to locations such as Cornwall.

In terms of the holiday industry, some local tourism operators have made some very thoughtful contributions to the ongoing debate about the future loosening of the present constraints, while MPs have been calling for specific support for the sector which will be very badly hit by this crisis.

And yet, it is particularly worrying that some holiday park complexes may re-open prematurely. I have heard reports that a range of sites are taking bookings for late Spring and early Summer.

Shockingly, the website of one large company, with eight holiday parks in Cornwall, is claiming that they will be reopening on 15th May. This would be foolhardy, and the UK Government needs to make it clear that such actions cannot and will not be sanctioned.