Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Penzance, culture and the Framework Convention

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian publicises the upcoming Cornish Language Festival in Penzance and gets a bit political. It will be as follows:

Cornish culture has certainly been in the headlines with the disagreements over the bid for Truro (Cornwall) to be European city of culture in 2023.

And in this week’s column, I would like to focus on the fantastic news that the charity Cornish Quest is hosting a Cornish Language Festival in Penzance between 25th February and St Piran’s Day.

Funded thanks to a successful application to the National Lottery’s “Celebrate” programme, the festival includes a host of lectures, workshops, discussion groups and walks. Performances will include the play “Trevithick” with the amazing team of Ed Rowe (Kernow King) and Mary Woodvine, plus a concert with acclaimed group The Changing Room, who often sing in Cornish.

At the heart of the festival will be a conference this coming Saturday, which will focus on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

This is a very timely intervention.

Readers of the Cornish Guardian will undoubtedly recall that, in April 2014, the UK Government bowed to years of pressure and recognised the Cornish people as a national minority through the Council of Europe – a separate body to the European Union and not affected by Brexit.

In March 2016, the relevant Advisory Committee from the Council of Europe visited the UK to assess how central government, local government and public bodies were adhering to the various articles of the treaty.

The keynote speaker at the Conference will be Dr Tove Malloy, from the Advisory Committee’s group of experts.

The Committee’s opinion report has been drafted and is currently with the UK Government, which is producing its own response to the report.

It is anticipated that this document will be formally published later this month, and many people are assuming that it will be critical of the UK Government’s approach to Cornwall and its national identity, culture and language.

It was shocking that, just after the Advisory Committee had visited Cornwall, funding for the Cornish language was cancelled. This was contrary to both the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and the Framework Convention, to which the Government was a signatory.

And when challenged they said Cornwall Council could “allocate the necessary resources … if they wish.” Yet when the draft opinion report from the Council of Europe was sent to Westminster, it was only shared with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – not the unitary authority in Cornwall!

This lack of co-operation is concerning, though the Department of Communities and Local Government has promised to send extracts of the draft opinion report to Cornwall and recently announced a Cornish Culture Fund through which £100,000 would be spent over the next two years – even though that is much, much less than the language funding they previously stopped.

The UK Government seems more than a little confused about its approach to Cornish culture and I am very interested to hear Dr Tove Malloy has to say.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A reply from the Police and Crime Commissioner on PCSOs

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioner about the new Police and Crime Plan (2017-2020). As a councillor for the China Clay Area, I raised concerns about the proposed reduction in Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and how that might impact on our area.

In particular, I referred her to newspaper reports that stated “no decision has yet been taken on which communities are likely to lose a PCSO” but that “large towns and cities are expected to see little change.” I obviously asked where that would leave communities, such as the China Clay Area, which do not happen to be a large town or city?

I have received a reply, which fails to address the key concern that I raised and I have already written to her again asking for further clarification. I have also asked that my concerns also be extended to the Chief Constable.

In addition, I will be at the China Clay Area Community Network meeting in St Stephen on Monday night, when the Commissioner’s Chief Executive will be present. I certainly have plenty of questions.

Her letter to me was a follows:

Since taking office last year I have been listening to the views of the public across Devon and Cornwall. What is overwhelmingly clear is that whilst the vast majority of the public support their police, they feel at times too distant from the police and call for greater connectivity. This was the case even in areas where they voiced strong support for their existing PCSOs. I have sought to address this desire for greater connectivity in my new Police and Crime Plan.

My new Police and Crime Plan provides a direction to help communities become safer, more resilient and better connected and makes a Local Policing Promise to ensure that policing is accessible, responsive, informative and supportive. To support this I have been able to unlock additional funding, including releasing a significant sum from our reserves.

However, decisions regarding the shape and make up of the workforce are made by the Chief Constable. He has now set out his outline plans and I have supported this on the condition that the enhanced structure fully delivers my police and crime plan which has connectivity at its heart. Through the investment that I have provided the Chief Constable has proposed to increase police officer numbers by 94 to over 3000, appoint 50 new criminal investigators and employ a team of 30 police staff who will directly support front line policing, for example by taking witness statements over the telephone. We expect that this investment in statement takers alone will free up 60,000 police officer hours – which is the equivalent of another 30 police officers on our streets.

The Chief Constable also proposed to make a significant reduction, over time, in the number of PCSOs working within our communities. No decisions have yet been made about where PCSOs will be deployed in the future and I have made it clear to the Chief Constable that I expect him to engage with communities, as well as the workforce, to inform him as he moves forward.

The Chief Constable is preparing a connectivity plan that will set out publically how he intends to fulfil the requirements set out in my plan and I shall be ‘signing off’ a set of service standards that the police will be required to meet. Connectivity for me is about building and keeping a strong link between the community and the police. At the moment that link for many people comes primarily from your PCSO – but we need to ensure that our links with the community are wider and stronger than just one person.

Over the coming years the shape of policing in Devon and Cornwall needs to alter – to reflect the changing nature of crime but also to help us respond quickly to emergency calls across our rural and our urban areas. We also need to improve the connection between the public and the police. It is for the Chief Constable to decide the composition of his workforce and to make decisions on how those resources are deployed.

While PCSO numbers will be reducing over time, it is the intention that existing PCSOs will move into these new roles, as police officers or other staff roles. I have the Chief Constable’s assurances that there will be no redundancies over the next twelve months and that redeployments will only take place following engagement with those localities that will be affected. As your representative, I will be resolute in holding the Chief Constable to account on behalf of the pubic particularly for the increased connectivity that the people of Devon and Cornwall have said is important to them.

I fully appreciate that you will continue to have concerns as to what local policing will look like in your area in the coming years. I would encourage you to write to the Chief Constable to let him know your concerns. I am sorry that I am unable to attend the upcoming Community Network meeting on 20th February. Andrew White, my CEO, will be attending on my behalf and will be able to talk to you further about this issue and answer any further questions.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Latest on biogas plant at Higher Fraddon

Today I met with staff at Cornwall Council for an update on what is happening with the various conditions relating to the consent for the biogas plant.

Here is a summary, which I hope will be useful.

Condition 1 states that the dome on the secondary digester should be reduced by 3.1m and this must be completed within nine months of the date of the planning permission (which was 28 September 2016).

Greener for Life are in breach of condition 4 which states that: “Within four months of the date of this permission, a detailed ‘Construction Management Plan' … shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority (LPA) for the reduction in height of the secondary digester and other necessary construction works including surface water drainage and the commissioning phase of the anaerobic digester plant.” This should have been sent in by the end of January, but this has not yet been received.

Condition 6 deals with surface water management. Information has been submitted and there have been detailed discussions with the Council’s drainage officer. She requested additional information earlier this month and the discussions continue.

Condition 14 deals with traffic movements and the unitary authority has been unhappy with what has been submitted by Greener for Life. The information that has been submitted is not consistent with what they said during the previous application and appeal processes. Discussions with the Council’s highway officers are ongoing.

Condition 16 covers the need for a vehicle management policy. The Council raised some concerns about the initial submission from Greener for Life and a revised scheme was received earlier today. This has been referred to the Highways team for feedback.

Condition 17 meanwhile covers landscaping. The Council’s landscaping team felt the proposed scheme left a lot to be desired and requested a revised scheme about two weeks ago.

Finally, condition 20 relates to the odour management plan. A revised document was received last Friday and has been referred to the Council’s Public Health and Protection team. This includes: “details of covered storage on site for all imported material for approval … covered storage means that all waste and biocrops imported by lorry shall be stored either inside the main reception building or that the outside storage bays where the biocrops are currently stored shall be roofed and walled.”

It is clear that Greener for Life have no intention of storing the “biocrops” in their main building and their latest odour management plan includes the details for the covering of the external storage area.

Greener for Life are pushing for a decision on this. The details can be found on the planning portal under the planning reference PA16/11310. If you have any comments on this – let me know what you think.

In addition, Greener for Life have submitted a new planning application to increase the number of “staff/other vehicle movements (Light Goods Vehicles) from 7 per week to an average of 17 staff/other vehicle movements (Light Goods Vehicles) per week (over a 4 week monthly period) to a maximum of 24 in any given week (Monday to Sunday) in the 4 week period.”

The reference number is PA17/01086 and the information can be viewed on the Council’s planning portal.

It will come as a surprise to no-one that the information in this new planning application contradicts what Greener for Life were saying in the period before they were granted planning permission.

I can further report that St Enoder Parish Council will be discussing the application at its meeting on 28th February, which will take place at Fraddon Village Hall. The meeting will start at 7.00.

The Housing White Paper: Not impressed!

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian looks at the latest policy statement on housing from the UK Government. It will be as follows:

Progressive politicians, housing charities and people living in low income households have known it for years. But now it is official: central government has admitted that the UK housing market is broken. It has even named its new White Paper: “Fixing our broken housing market.”

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid has claimed that the document represents a new “bold, radical vision” and is about ensuring that the “housing market works for everyone, including people on lower incomes, renters, disabled and older people.”

But the proposals in the document do not live up to the spin. The White Paper has been widely criticised, with even a former Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps – who one magazine cheekily pointed out “used to get booed at housing conferences” – stating that the White Paper would not “make that much difference.”

The document does mention the mismatch between wages and house prices, and the need for affordable housing, but the lack of any meaningful changes in policy show that it is platitude-heavy.

What we must not forget is that this present Government and its immediate predecessor have made some pretty fundamental and regressive shifts in terms of affordable housing, which are re-affirmed in the new White Paper.

The White Paper promises no new money and there are numerous areas which I feel need to be criticised, but I will focus on only two.

The Government has stopped investing in “social rent” properties, and has dictated that Housing Associations must focus on their new “affordable rent” model that sets rents at 80% of the inflated cost of private sector rents.

This may sound a technical matter, but the costly reality of these changes can be seen, week after week, on the Homechoice Cornwall website, which advertises properties for rent.

Last week, alongside two-bed social rent properties costing around £400 a month and three-bed social rent homes with monthly rents of £362-£365, there were also some affordable rent units. These included a three-bed property with a monthly rent of £617 and a two-bed bungalow at £575.

Such hikes are counter-productive, and lead to the ridiculous situation where some low-income families are struggling to pay these so-called affordable rents.

What is more, the Government is continuing to push on with its plans for starter homes. These allegedly “affordable” homes are defined as new properties for first-time buyers which cost no more than £250,000, with the scheme designed for households with an annual income of up to £80,000. It is frankly nonsensical.

Until central government comes up with alternatives for its affordable rent properties and starter homes, and increases investment in local-needs housing, it will be failing communities across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Cornish Nation no. 74 … out now

Mebyon Kernow has just published its latest edition of Cornish Nation magazine, which is in the process of being sent out to all party members.

It includes features about the opposition to the creation of a Devonwall parliamentary constituency, an update on disastrous government plans pushing for a SW regions, the K 4 Kernow campaign, the work of Dr Joseph Toms and much, much more.

Anyone who would like a complimentary copy of the magazine – either as a pdf or in hard copy – can request one from me at dickcole@btinternet.com.