Friday, 20 May 2022

MK COMMENT ON QUEEN’S SPEECH



In his article in this week’s Cornish Guardian, MK leader Cllr Dick Cole commented on the UK Government’s proposed legislative programme. It is as follows:

Through the spectacle of the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 10th May, the UK Government announced its legislative programme for the next parliamentary session. It includes a total of 38 bills and the key criticism from political opponents has been that not enough is being proposed to tackle the present cost of living crisis.

While I have not studied the full detail of many of the proposed bills, there are some elements to be welcomed, ranging from legislation to better combat modern slavery and to more effectively regulate social housing. There will also be a Renters Reform Bill and it is good that this will abolish “no fault” evictions, though I am not sure I can be supportive of all aspects of that particular legislation.

The element of the Speech that has been getting the greatest degree of discussion is the wide-ranging Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which covers the so-called “county deals” being considered in Cornwall and elsewhere, as well as reforms to the planning system.

The “devolution” proposals are still inadequate for the needs of Cornwall, but the supporting information published with the Bill is full of hyperbole about giving “local leaders and communities the tools they need to make better places,” providing opportunities to “increase innovation and enhance local accountability” while increasing the “transparency of local leaders.” The words do not match the reality of their timid and unexciting proposals.


In terms of planning, some of the extremely unpopular measures outlined in the 2020 “Planning for the Future” White Paper, such as the zoning of land for immediate “in principle” consents, have thankfully been ditched. But once again there are claims about changes giving “local communities control over what is built” in their area, but the reality will be very, very different.

The Government has confirmed that a revised, top-down, National Planning Policy Framework will be produced and there will be a consultation about a suite of “national” development management policies, that will have primacy over policies devised in Cornwall. This disturbs me.

The Bill will also include a discretionary council tax premium on second homes of up to 100%, which is being widely welcomed. But this does not go far enough. The “premium” is less than that to be charged in Wales, there is no proposal for planning controls to stop and reverse the spread of such part-time dwellings, while the document is also silent on the adverse impact of holiday lets and airbnbs on the housing market.

This is frankly so disappointing when so many people are struggling to secure a first home for rent or purchase.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

RIGHT TO BUY IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT IS NEEDED



In my column in last week's Cornish Guardian, I addressed the rumoured expansion of the Right to Buy scheme, which would lead to the loss of much-needed affordable housing. It was as follows:

In 1980, Margaret Thatcher’s Government introduced Right to Buy through its first Housing Act, and the legislation allowed council tenants to purchase their homes at a significant discount from their open-market value.

As a consequence, some two million rental properties were sold. I agree with the view of Polly Neate, the Chief Executive of the homelessness charity Shelter, that this tore “a massive hole” in the stock of much-needed affordable housing.

I would add that the loss of so many social rent properties over the last forty years – which were largely not replaced – has been a significant contributory factor to the out-of-control, dysfunctional and unbalanced housing market that exists today.

I was therefore extremely alarmed to see newspaper reports that state the Prime Minister is looking into re-energising the concept of Right to Buy by extending it to tenants of Housing Associations.

I could hardly believe what I was reading. A “government source” was quoted as saying that: “The Prime Minister has got very excited about this. In many ways it is a replica of the great Maggie idea of 'buy your own council flat.' It is 'buy your own housing association flat’.”

It is a bonkers plan. There is so much that needs to be done to combat the housing crisis, but selling off social rent properties is not any part of any answer.

Again, I agree with the comments of Polly Neate. Extending Right to Buy is indeed “half-baked” and a “hare-brained idea.” It is the “opposite of what the country needs” and “there could not be a worse time to sell off what remains of our last truly affordable social homes.”

There is obviously a political dimension to what the Prime Minister is considering, as the Conservatives believe Right to Buy could be a popular policy. But a prominent thinktank has rightly pointed out the inequity at the core of the proposal, noting that it “offers huge financial benefits to those who qualify for social housing” – perhaps many tens of thousands of pounds – “while providing nothing for those … who pay much higher rents in less secure private tenancies.”

It is telling that progressive governments in the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales abolished Right to Buy in 2017 and 2019 respectively. I understood that the Northern Ireland version of the scheme will end in August.

Right to Buy should also be ruled out in Cornwall and England. Politicians should instead be prioritising the provision of proper local-needs housing, legislating to protect those in private rented accommodation and to control rents, while rolling back the spread of second homes and airbnbs.

Monday, 16 May 2022

WILL CORNISH BE INCLUDED IN THE BROADCASTING BILL?



In a recent article in the Cornish Guardian, I wrote about the UK Government’s “blindspot” when it comes to regional / minority languages and Cornish. It was as follows:

The eighth anniversary of the recognition of the Cornish through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has just passed. To mark the occasion, the unitary authority issued a positive press release about all the work being done to protect and promote the unique culture and distinctive language of Cornwall, reminding one and all that the UK Government had pledged the Cornish would have the “same status” as “the UK’s other Celtic people: the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.”

But sadly, we cannot forget that the UK Government is failing to meet its obligations to the Convention in so many ways. Westminster denied the Cornish a tick-box on the 2021 census and, when it agreed the process for setting boundaries for future parliamentary seats, refused to protect the territoriality of Cornwall in law. Cornwall has not secured a meaningful devolution settlement in line with the other Celtic nations, and is not represented on the British and Irish Council.

I am in the fortunate position of being the Chairman of Cornwall Council’s working group on national minority status and, a short time ago, I hosted an engagement forum with interested members of the general public.

We were addressed by Denzil Monk, a film maker and a lecturer in film at the School of Film and Television at Falmouth University. He spoke about the campaign for public service broadcasting in and for Cornwall, which has the full support of the unitary authority. At the forum, there was a discussion about ongoing representations to the BBC about how their commitment in the 2016 BBC Charter to “regional and minority languages of the United Kingdom” ridiculously does not extend to Cornish. The document restricted its definition of such languages to “Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Ulster Scots.”

By coincidence, the UK Government published its latest White Paper on the following day. It was titled: “Up Next: The Government’s vision for the broadcasting sector.”

Disappointingly, the document is silent on the request for public service broadcasting for Cornwall while, in the section on regional and minority languages, the Cornish language is ignored. The languages mentioned in the document are again Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Ulster Scots.

This is so unsatisfactory, but the White Paper does present an opportunity. The Government now says that the “importance of programmes broadcast in the UK’s indigenous regional and minority languages” will be made “clear in legislation.”

Cornwall’s MPs will therefore be able to make representations to the Minister and the wider UK Government to ensure that any future provision for regional and minority languages also includes Cornish. I have already written to them and asked then to do exactly that.

Friday, 22 April 2022

STATEMENT ON SHARED PROSPERITY FUND ANNOUNCEMENT



The Conservative Government has repeatedly promised that the funding Cornwall is to receive through the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) would, at least, match the level of EU structural monies that would have been received.

Cornwall Council has estimated that this should equate to £100 million each year. The most recent report produced by the Conservative-controlled authority states that, “in order to be no worse off,” Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly would “need to receive £700 million from the UK SPF over the coming seven years.”

It is hardly surprising that the actual funding announcement of £132 million over the next three years – less than half of the anticipated £300 million – has gone down badly.

We must not forget all the promises made by Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and local MPs, plus the written statements confirming that funding through the “UK SPF will at a minimum match the size of EU funds in each nation and in Cornwall, each year.”

But the reality is that the main UK SPF budget has also been cut. I understand that the figure will now be £400 million in 2022/23 and £700 million in 2023/24. It will not rise to the level of “average annual EU funds” of £1.5 billion until 2024/25.

Some of the supporting information in the Government press release makes comments about the “allocation formula” taking into account local population data and a “broadly based measure of need, including factors like unemployment and income levels.” But this is all a distraction, because the promised level of funding will not be delivered.

The “cuts” have also been widely condemned across Cornwall, Wales and the North of England. But prominent Conservatives in Cornwall have welcomed the funding and, though it may well be true that we will still be getting more funding “per head” than elsewhere, I really struggle to see how they can justify the position of central government. After all, for the next three years, £132 million is not the promised £300 million.

It was only 18 months ago that one Cornish MP suggested that statements from a Government Minister had “shot down claims from Cornwall Council that Cornwall will be short-changed” under the SPF. He went on to challenge the-then Liberal Democrat / Independent council to “retract their damaging statements” and to “move on” from “always thinking the worst and taking a pessimistic view.”

At this time, it seems that the pessimism was well-founded. But I can confirm that I will be positive about the SPF when Boris Johnson’s Government delivers the promised £100 million a year to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

This is my article in this week’s Cornish Guardian.



Tuesday, 19 April 2022

MY LATEST M0NTHLY REPORT



Time period: 23rd February – 31st March 2022

1.0 Council and other meetings

In terms of physical meetings during the last few weeks, I attended Customer & Support Services Overview & Scrutiny Committee plus the first meeting of an Inquiry into Equality and Diversity Indicators (EDI) for the Council (for which I am the lead member), Chief Officers Employment Committee, Constitution and Governance Committee, and two briefings for Group Leaders about a possible “county deal” for Cornwall.

Other meetings via TEAMS or ZOOM video-conferencing included Support Services Overview & Scrutiny Committee (meeting following the call-in of the Cabinet decision to close the Ships and Castles pool in Falmouth), Economic Growth & Development Overview & Scrutiny Committee, and an all member briefing on a possible “county deal.”

In terms of our local area, I have attended online meetings with Cornwall Councillors for Clay Country, meetings of St Dennis and St Enoder Parish Councils, and four consultation events linked to the production of a Neighbourhood Plan for St Dennis Parish.

I also had a number of further online meetings about a range of local issues.

2.0 “County deal” for Cornwall

A “Levelling Up” White Paper was published by the UK Government in early February, and it invited Cornwall Council to commence negotiations about “devolution” through a “county deal.” The Conservative administration at the Council submitted a proposal on 25th March.

I am extremely disappointed that the “devolution” on offer to Cornwall is certainly not the meaningful devolution achieved in Scotland and Wales, but it represents extremely limited accommodations with local government. The leader of the Council is working within the strict and limiting constraints set out in the White Paper, which would include the need for a directly elected mayor or leader. I have appealed to the administration to seek to go beyond the unambitious constraints of the present “devolution” debate as configured by the UK Government, and argue for a more comprehensive settlement. I don’t think this is happening.

As this debate continues, I will provide regular updates.

3.0 Community networks

I have previously reported that the administration at Cornwall Council has commenced a review of Community Networks. It has been widely suggested that the number of networks will be reduced. In my position as the Chairman of the China Clay Area Network Panel, I have written to the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods expressing concern at the possibility that the China Clay Area Network could cease to exist. I will be making further representations in the coming weeks.

4.0 Update on Cornwall-wide roll-out of 20mph speed limits

Cornwall Council has confirmed that it will be putting in place 20mph speed limits across the built-up parts of two Community Network Areas (Falmouth / Penryn and Camelford). This is the “pilot” phase of the council administration’s plan to make 20mph the default speed limit for residential roads across Cornwall. Feedback from this initial phase will be reviewed by the Economic Growth & Development Overview & Scrutiny Committee in order to inform or guide the wider roll-out of the project.

5.0 Drive EV2 (Electric Vehicle Charging) Project

The unitary authority has secured funding to install 150 charge points for electric vehicles across Cornwall. It is proposed that the majority of these will be located in Cornwall Council car parks, where there is a significant through-put of people and vehicles. The initial list shows there will be some points in all Network Areas – except the China Clay Area.

I have contacted the team and asked whether they could also identify sites within Clay Country. As they have been focusing on council-owned car parks, I have suggested that they might consider an installation in the Wellington Road car park in St Dennis.

6.0 Homechoice

At the most recent meeting of the Economic Growth & Development Overview & Scrutiny Committee, it was confirmed that there is to be a review of the Homechoice system, through which affordable housing is allocated. I have already raised a number of concerns with senior officers, and I will be making further detailed representations in the coming weeks. This will principally relate to putting in place more mechanisms to ensure that a higher percentage of the affordable homes go to households with ties to the local community.

7.0 Community Chest

As a Cornwall Councillor, I am awarded £3,000 each year to support local groups with small grants. I can confirm that, for the 2021-2022 year, I supported the following organisations with funding: British Divers Marine Life Rescue, Indian Queens Band, Indian Queens Community Choir, Indian Queens Under Fives, St Dennis Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Committee, St Dennis Ukulele Group and Treverbyn Community Trust (for mobile community larder and emergency food bags).

My allocation for 2022-2023 has just been confirmed. If any local groups would like further information about the grants, please get in contact with me.

ST DENNIS PARISH ISSUES

8.0 Social / affordable rent properties in St Dennis


As previously reported, I produced a report into complaints about affordable housing in St Dennis not going to local households. This was submitted to Cornwall Council in December 2021 and I received a written response in February. A follow-up meeting was held with the Head of Housing and Planning, Head of Housing Delivery, and an Affordable Housing Manager on 30th March.

The Council has confirmed the following:

· A nominations agreement was in place for the Sanctuary Housing development at Hendra Heights, which prioritises households with a local connection to St Dennis. But due to an “internal” error, the register provider failed to apply the agreement. As a consequence, only four of the 19 lettings during 2018-2021 went to local households.

· A nominations agreement (to prioritise households with a local connection to St Dennis) should have been put in place at Coastline’s Wesley Place development but, because of failings at both the local authority and the registered provider, this was not done. Coastline did however produce a local lettings plan for lettings, but this prioritised households with a local connection to the town of St Austell! As a consequence, none of the 11 lettings at Wesley Place went to households with a St Dennis connection.

This therefore shows that, of the 30 lettings (2018-2021) on the two sites which should have prioritised St Dennis households, only four went to people with a parish connection.

In the meeting with council officers, I was told that because the agreements were not tied to a Section 106 legal undertaking, they were deemed “voluntary” and the Council would not be in a position to take enforcement on past errors.

However, Sanctuary have acknowledged their error and agreed to do more to ensure re-lets in the future go to local families. I understand that after the initial lettings, the nominations agreement states that 75% of voids should be awarded to local households. But they have suggested that, for the next two years, this should be 100%. At the meeting with officers, I have requested that discussions be had about whether that two year period can be significantly longer.

Coastline Housing are aware of the requirement to enter into a nominations agreement. One is presently being drafted by the Council’s legal team for future lettings, and I hope to soon have sight of it.

I have also requested that Cornwall Council approach other registered providers operating in St Dennis to explore how they can help to ensure that more rental properties in the Parish go to local households. I have already spoken to key officers at Ocean Housing about this.

There are some aspects of my report which I am still following up with Cornwall Council, and I will report back further when I have more news.

9.0 Neighbourhood Plan

I was pleased to assist parish councillors with the delivery of questionnaires for a Neighbourhood Plan around St Dennis, and it is good to see completed forms coming back to ClayTAWC. If you haven’t filled in one yet, the deadline is 16th April. In addition, I attended the four consultation events held on 15th, 23rd, 30th and 31st March.

10.0 Planning matters

10.1 Proposed dwelling on Hendra Road (PA21/10233)


St Dennis Parish Council objected to the proposal for a single dwelling to the south of Jubilee Terrace. Concerns included the plot being too small for a dwelling. I raised these worries with the case officer and, after a site visit, he came to the same conclusion. The application was then withdrawn by the applicant.

10.2 Proposed solar farm near Trerice

The application has yet to be formally submitted, but the applicants (Statkraft) have lodged information about archaeological remains within the proposal site with the unitary authority for “pre-application” advice.

11.0 Highways

As previously reported, Cornwall Council has just relaunched its Community Network Highways Scheme.

The four councillors for Clay Country have been informed that our area will receive £45,864 a year for each of the next three years. We have agreed that the funding will be divided equally between the four elected members, which means I will have just over £34,000 to spend across the parishes of St Dennis and St Enoder.

I can confirm that I have asked highways officers to explore a (i) potential scheme to slow traffic entering Hendra Road from the south, and (ii) something to prevent access being blocked to properties located to the rear of the kebab shop.

ST ENODER PARISH ISSUES

12.0 Planning


There continues to be a significant number of ongoing planning matters in St Enoder Parish. Listed below are some which may be of particular interest.

12.1 Land to rear of Unit 2, Indian Queens Industrial Estate (PA21/01683)

I have previously reported that, on 2nd August 2021, the Central Sub-Area Planning Committee of Cornwall Council unanimously rejected the planning application for four commercial units at the rear of Unit 2 on the industrial estate at Indian Queens, which included a new access from Moorland Road.

Local residents were concerned about the traffic problems that a new access onto the old A30 would cause, and also raised concerns that the screening (trees and shrubs) previously located within the area had been removed. There had been a petition of 92 names against the development.

The landowner appealed the decision to the Planning Inspectorate, and I produced a detailed representation (of over 4,500 words) on behalf of the Parish Council and local residents. I am very pleased to be able to report that the Planning Inspector listened to local people and rejected the appeal. In his ruling, he stated the following:

“An access point, in itself, may not be uncharacteristic of Moorland Road, but at this location would result in removal of the existing hedgebank and opening up of the frontage. The new access could be formally landscaped and managed in a tidy manner, with some ecological enhancement. However, the presence of the access, along with the service yard between Moorland Road and the new buildings, would result in an uncharacteristic, strong frontage relationship of industrial activity to Moorland Road.

“As a consequence, commercial activity would be more readily visible in the street scene. The industrial area would cease to be contained, inward looking to the estate road and would begin to creep into the residential area, leading to a harmful dilution of the residential character. The proposal would harm the character and appearance of the area. It would conflict with those aims of Local Plan policies 2 and 12 that seek to protect the distinctive characteristics of the local area.”

12.2 Tregonning Solar Farm (PA22/01511)

A solar farm is proposed for land on Tregonning Farm, to the east of the Dairyland complex, in St Newlyn East parish. The proposed scheme lies immediately adjacent to the boundaries of St Enoder Parish. However, the cabling will run through St Enoder Parish, linking the solar panels to Indian Queens Power Station in St Dennis Parish. The cabling would cover a distance of about four miles. The first two miles would be across farmland, but the second two miles would follow the local road network through Fraddon (Barton Lane, the old A30 and Fraddon Hill) and Indian Queens (Chapel Road and Highgate Hill), before passing Gaverigan to the power station. Anyone wishing to comment on this application can still do so on Cornwall Council’s planning portal.

12.3 Tresithney Solar Farm

The application has yet to be formally submitted, but the applicants (Statkraft) have lodged information about archaeological remains within the proposal site with the unitary authority for “pre-application” advice. It should be noted that there is evidence of significant prehistoric settlement remains in the north-west corner of the farm, covering an area of over 25 hectares, which would be impacted upon by the development.

12.4 Class Q development in Chytane Woods area (PA21/08165)

I am very unhappy about the decision of Cornwall Council to allow “permission” for a dwelling in countryside off New Road near Fraddon, where residential properties would not normally be allowed.

The UK Government brought in a policy known as “Class Q,” through which an agricultural building (if it meets certain criteria such as being structurally sound) can be converted into housing. It is not a formal planning application as such, but simply a “prior approval” or notification process, which the local authority can “refuse” if the supporting evidence is lacking.

The building for this application was built without planning permission in the late 2000s. The building lies within a piece of land measuring only two-and-a-half hectares, which contained no residential properties. There was an investigation, but no enforcement action could be taken as more than four years had expired since the structure had been erected At the time of the enforcement investigation, officers of the authority referred to it as “agricultural.” In their application, the new owners of the site have argued that it the building was agricultural – which the Parish Council and I have challenged in recent months.


I have found everything about the application to be a nonsense and I am preparing a detailed representation to Steve Double MP seeking a review of the whole “Class Q” aspect of planning.

12.5 Proposal for six flats at St Columb Road (PA22/00228)

St Enoder Parish Council has objected to the proposal for six two-bedroom flats on the right-hand side of the road to Clodan Mews and rear of the Co-op. The three-storey scheme would only have six parking spaces, which is less than the two parking spaces per housing unit specified in the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan. The lack of parking provision was considered especially inappropriate in such a congested part of the Parish.

13.0 Update on highway improvements

13.1 Zebra crossings in Indian Queens


As I write this report, I am pleased that the two zebra crossings and associated highway works (on Chapel Road and St Francis Road) have been largely competed.

As many residents will be aware, the raised platform for the St Francis Road crossing was initially built too high and had to be reduced in height. This was disappointing, but I am pleased, after pushing for these safety measures for so long, to see them in place.

13.2 Summercourt School

I am also pleased that the promised permanent vehicle activated sign has been erected on the approach to Summercourt School. This was funded through the old Community Network Highway Scheme.

13.3 A3058 improvements


Works for the first phase of the A3058 Safer Route improvements in Summercourt are ongoing. In St Austell Street, some road markings have been redone and the column for a permanent vehicle activated sign has been erected. I have just been informed that the actual sign will be installed in the week commencing 25th April. The other vehicle activated sign on Beacon Road will also be erected in that week. Related works to extend the 30mph speed limit on Beacon Road are in progress.

The timetable for the second phase of works around the installation of the signalised pedestrian crossings at the crossroads has yet to be finalised.

13.4 Other updates

The road safety audit of the road through Fraddon and St Columb Road (between Penhale and the Halloon roundabout) is also ongoing and I have asked officers to include congestion / road safety issues in the Co-op area into the review. This has been agreed.

14.0 Newsletter

Having completed a newsletter around St Dennis Parish in recent weeks, I will soon be distributing a newsletter around St Enoder Parish.

HELPING LOCAL FAMILIES

15.0 Advice

Over the last few weeks, I have also assisted numerous households and individuals with guidance and advice on a range of topics including planning matters, housing need, adult social care, educational matters, environmental issues and more.