Sunday, 28 August 2016

Join MK in lobbying for greater recognition for Cornwall 2: Cornish tickbox on 2021 census

In May, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published its initial response to the public consultation on topics for possible inclusion in the 2021 Census. In this, the ONS stated that they were not minded to include the option of a Cornish tickbox, adding that there would be a further consultation on options for the census questions on identity in the near-future.

On behalf of Mebyon Kernow, I have written to the ONS challenging their view, pointing out that they have failed to give adequate weight to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and formally requesting that they urgently reconsider the inclusion of such a tickbox in this upcoming census.

Why not join MK in lobbying the ONS on this important issue.

The relevant email address is:

For information, my letter to the ONS was as follows:

I am writing to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on behalf of Mebyon Kernow, a political party campaigning for greater self-government for Cornwall, with regard to the ONS’s initial response to the public consultation on topics for possible inclusion in the 2021 Census, which were published in May.

We were particularly disappointed that the ONS stated they were not minded to include a Cornish tickbox in the national identity section, adding that the provision of write-in options were adequate. We would challenge this assertion and request that the ONS urgently reconsider the inclusion of such a tickbox in this upcoming census.

People in Cornwall were very pleased when the ONS agreed that, for the 2011 census, a code was allocated to the Cornish so that everyone who chose to write-in their national identity as Cornish would have it properly recorded. This was an important step forward at that time, but there has been a significant shift since then with the decision of the UK Government to recognise the Cornish as a national minority.

The ONS will recall that, at the time of the announcement, the Government stated: “The decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.”

We note that in its response to recent consultation the ONS did reference the Framework Convention in a number of places, but we take the view that the ONS failed to give significant enough weight to the Framework Convention when coming to its view to not include a Cornish tickbox.

The inclusion of the Cornish within the auspices of the Framework Convention was a landmark ruling which, we consider, it would be illogical and unjust for the ONS to ignore. It is clear to us that the national identity question on the 2021 census must therefore treat the Cornish in the same manner as the “UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.”

Indeed, it is our view that the case for a tickbox for Cornish is overwhelming. Surely, it would be ridiculous to provide a tickbox facility for three of the UK’s four national minorities (the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish) but deny the opportunity to the fourth (the Cornish).

We would also point out that in the 2011 census, a total of 83,499 people from across Cornwall, England and Wales, used the “write-in” option to identify as Cornish. Within Cornwall itself, 73,200 people described themselves as Cornish on the form, equating to 13.8% of the population. This is comparable to the 14% of people in Wales who wrote-in Welsh in the 2001 census, prior to the inclusion of a Welsh tickbox in 2011. It is also particularly telling that, once a Welsh tickbox had been included, some 66% of respondents from Wales described themselves as Welsh.

As shown above with this simple comparison between Cornwall and Wales, if a Cornish tickbox were not to be included it would mean that the number of people with a Cornish national identity would be massively under-recorded.

It is our view that there should be parity between all national minorities within the United Kingdom, which would also give greater value and surety to the overall statistics.

We also note that the ONS previously confirmed that there would be a further consultation on options for the identity questions in the near-future, and would ask when this is likely to happen and we can make further representations on this issue.

Please look again at including a Cornish tickbox in the 2021 census.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Government has got its housing policies wrong

In this week’s Cornish Guardian, my article addresses the ongoing failures in the housing policy of central government. It was as follows:

As a local councillor, an increasing proportion of my workload comes from helping people experiencing housing problems.

But this is hardly surprising as Cornwall – like many other parts of the United Kingdom – has a dysfunctional housing market, which successive governments have simply failed to deal with.

The sell-off of council houses in the 1980s and the loss of so much social housing was a key catalyst which made the housing market very unbalanced. Such problems were deepened by past and present governments which preferred to see houses as “investments” rather than homes, for which they should be censured.

They should likewise be criticized for much of their approach to housing which, in recent decades, has variously included the active promotion of house price inflation and an end to rent controls, plus tax breaks for rich individuals who wish to own multiple properties.

Recent policy shifts such as the massive reduction in investment in affordable properties and the re-invigoration” of right-to-buy are equally misguided.

The cost of housing has certainly gone up and up, making it more difficult for millions of ordinary people across the UK.

A particularly worrying report has just been published by the National Housing Federation (NHF) which shows that, last year, private landlords received £9.3 billion from housing benefit payments, more than twice what they received a decade ago.

And for me, one of the most telling statistics in the report is that “nearly half (47%) of all families claiming housing benefit” in the increasingly expensive private rented sector are in work, but not earning enough to meet their housing costs.

In launching the report, the Chief Executive of the NHF said it was “madness” to “spend £9 billion of taxpayers' money lining the pockets of private landlords rather than investing in affordable homes."

This led to the inevitable war of words between the NHF (which represents housing associations), government spokespeople and the National Landlords Association (which represents the private sector). The head of policy at the National Landlords Association even accused the NHF of taking a “cheap shot at landlords” because of the failings of central government.

It is my view that the Government has still got its housing policies badly, badly wrong and I cannot fathom why they are so untroubled about subsidising expensive rents through benefit payments.

The Government has even increased the cost of new rental properties from Housing Associations, through their so-called “affordable rent” model which is also driving up the bill for housing benefit.

Anyone who has looked on the Cornwall Homechoice website over the last few days will have seen three newish “affordable rent” units available at between £640 and £660 a month, but “social rent” properties of a similar size were available at less than £400.

It all makes no sense and MPs really need to rethink their approach to housing as a matter of urgency.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Join MK in lobbying for greater recognition for Cornwall 1: No to Devonwall seat

In less than one month, the Boundary Commission will be announcing its provisional proposals for the new parliamentary boundaries for the 2020 General Election.

The Review is being driven by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act and, as the legislation stands, it would inevitably mean the creation of a Devonwall constituency.

On behalf of Mebyon Kernow, I have written to the new Minister for the Constitution, Chris Skidmore, pointing out that the Boundary Review process is against the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and asking that he promote the modification of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act to ensure that the territorial integrity of Cornwall is not breached.

Why not join MK in lobbying Mr Skidmore on this important issue.

His address is:

Chris Skidmore MP
Parliamentary Secretary (Minister for the Constitution)
Cabinet Office

For information, my letter to him was as follows:

The Parliamentary Boundary Review; Cornwall and the implications of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

In April 2014, the Coalition Government recognised the Cornish people through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The official governmental 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.”

This landmark recognition came after many years of campaigning and, as a consequence, was warmly welcomed across Cornwall.

But two years on, there is a growing frustration that central government is failing to act on the various articles within the Framework Convention.

In particular, I am writing to you as the new Minister for the Constitution with regard to the Boundary Committee’s review of parliamentary constituencies for the 2020 General Election.

As you will be aware, the previous (Coalition) Government passed the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which stated that the number of seats in the UK parliament should be reduced to 600 and – unless specified in the legislation – the electorates for seats should be within 5% of the various averages for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Sadly, the Act does not recognise the territorial integrity of Cornwall and, as the legislation stands, the outcome of any Boundary Review (based on the provisions within the Act and the present electorate of Cornwall) would inevitably include the creation of a cross-Tamar “Devonwall” constituency.

We would wish to point out that it is since the Act was agreed, that the UK Government agreed the Cornish are covered by the auspices of the Framework Convention.

We would therefore contend that the legislation which guides the Boundary Review is against the spirit and intent of the Framework Convention, which, as well as protecting the culture and identity of national minorities, also seeks to protect the political integrity of territories associated with such groups.

In the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, 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 borders between England and Scotland or Wales.

We would therefore request that central government amend the Act, prior to completion of the parliamentary constituency review, in order ensure that all Cornish constituencies lie entirely within the boundaries of Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly).

It is our view that it would be relatively simple for central government to do this. Only a few months ago, the Government agreed “emergency” legislation to extend the deadline for people seeking to register to vote in the referendum on the EU following the failure of the Government’s registration website.

The Government could likewise deliver a simple amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, to respect the Framework Convention and Keep Cornwall Whole. And we would appeal to you to take this course of action as the Minister for the Constitution.

We look forward to hearing from you and would welcome the opportunity to make further representations to you if that would be helpful.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Government statement on EU funding: what does it mean?

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian looked at central government’s recent announcement on EU funding. It was as follows:

In recent years, I have been in the fortunate position to be involved with some EU funding initiatives in Cornwall and to see a range of regeneration projects brought forward.

From 2011-2015, I was Chair of the Clay Country Local Action Group (LAG), which supported a range of small businesses and community groups with EU funding via the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). I have since been appointed to the successor South and East Cornwall LAG which covers an area from Summercourt to Saltash.

And last week, I was present at a LAG meeting discussing Community Led Local Development (CLLD) funding, which looks to target investment from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) towards projects in and around some of Cornwall’s most deprived communities.

But as you would imagine, there has been a great deal of concern about this funding following the vote to leave the European Union.

I was therefore very pleased to see the headlines over the weekend which stated “Government guarantee for post-EU funds.”

But on reading the detail of the statement from the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, I was not sure exactly what had been agreed.

Hammond emphasised the need for “stability and certainty,” while adding that “the government will match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020.” He also confirmed that “structural and investment funds projects signed before the Autumn Statement and Horizon research funding granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave.”

At this stage, I am concerned that the statement only guarantees those projects signed off in the next few months. It is unclear what the full impact of this deadline will be for Cornwall, which had been due to receive significant amounts of structural funding through a range of mechanisms.

Ministers from the UK’s devolved administrations were certainly quick to challenge Philip Hammond on his statement.

The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, told the media that the Government’s guarantee only covered “about half of the regional funding due to Wales” and did “not provide the long-term certainty” that was needed.

A representative of the Scottish Government meanwhile described the Government announcement as “a limited guarantee for some schemes for a few short years” which would leave “Scotland hundreds of millions of pounds short.”

At this time, we need greater clarity from central government and their MPs about what the guarantee will actually mean for Cornwall and whether they will agree to safeguard the full extent of funding that would have been received prior to Brexit.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

MK continues to oppose so-called "eco-community"

On behalf of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, Cllr Matthew Luke and I have written to the Inspector reviewing the Cornwall Local Plan. We have, once again, appealed to him to remove the so-called “eco-community” from the draft Local Plan.

Opponents of the proposal will be aware that following the debate on the “eco-community” at the Examination in Public (19th May), the Inspector confirmed the “the provision of eco-communities at West Carclaze/Baal and Par Docks” should stay in the document with an “indicative overall scale of about 1,500 and 500 dwellings respectively.”

The consultation on the Inspector’s post-hearing changes are being consulted on until Friday (12th August) and we formally requested that he look again at this issue and review the various representations submitted by Mebyon Kernow and others.

Extracts from our representation included the following:

Policy Statement: Eco-towns – A Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1

It is our view that the allocation for an “eco-community” stems from the policy direction contained within the above document which was published on 16th July 2009. This statement specified that an eco-town should be built at St Austell and the proposed “eco-community” was included within the Cornwall Local Plan following limited scrutiny because of the pervading policy direction set by central government.

But that PPS was cancelled in March 2015 with the-then Minister stating that the “eco-towns programme” was a “total shambles” which had “built nothing but resentment.” It also referred to the proposals as being “unsustainable and environmentally damaging.” Unfortunately, the cancellation of the PPS happened after the “eco-community” had been included within the draft Cornwall Local Plan.

We would request that the Inspector acknowledges this key shift in central government policy and removes this proposed “allocation” from the Cornwall Local Plan.

Lack of popular support

An application for a 1,500 unit “eco-community” at West Carclaze & Baal (PA14/12186) was validated in January 2015. We consider this application to have been premature and to have inappropriately influenced the development of planning policy for Mid Cornwall in the draft Cornwall Local Plan. But the application has shown that the proposal does not have local support. It has been opposed by over 1,000 representations and two local parish councils, as well as St Austell Town Council.

Local objections

Residents in Mid Cornwall have raised numerous objections to the proposal. These include the undeniable fact that the development is masquerading as a brown-field development, though much of the housing will be on the few remaining green fields in between St Austell and the village of Penwithick
[as pictured above]; and partly on land that has restoration conditions (ie; is technically green-field).

Local people are also opposed to the level of housing growth being proposed for the China Clay Area (see below), the pressures on local infrastructure, concerns about flooding, the impact on nature conservation interests, the change to the character of this historic mining area, and much more.

We would argue that, put simply, the proposed “eco-community” has not been worked up in enough detail to justify inclusion with the Cornwall Local Plan.

A development fails to live up earlier promises

The various documents that have been produced in recent years, by the promoters of the original eco-town proposal, made numerous promises about the environmentally-friendly nature of the development and “low-carbon living” (Clay Country Eco-town Summary Booklet; July 2009). Local people were, for example, variously promised 40-50% affordable housing (Clay Country Eco-town The Facts; 2008) or 40% affordable housing (see Clay Country Eco-town Summary Booklet; 2009).

Though we are fully against the principle of this development, we do acknowledge that Policy 3 of the draft Cornwall Local Plan does contain some policy guidelines for the development of the eco-community. But we consider that the target of 30% affordable housing is unacceptably low (given past promises), and the environmental credentials that had been used in the past to justify the development of a so-called “eco-community” are unlikely to ever be delivered.

Unsustainable levels of growth in Clay Country

Between 1991 and 2010, the China Clay Area experienced faster housing growth than any other part of Cornwall. According to Cornwall Council’s own figures, the level of housing growth – based on the existing housing stock – was a very significant 47%.

It is our view that the imposition of an “eco-town” or “eco-community” on the China Clay Area, in addition to other planned housing, is truly unsustainable.

If the level of housing proposed for the China Clay Area in the Cornwall Local Plan (including the eco-community) was allowed to go forward, it would mean that the housing stock of Clay Country would increase by over 80% over four decades (from 1991 to 2030).

It is our view this this amount of housing is excessive, with greater percentage growth than any other part of Cornwall. It would, for example, be three times the level of housing growth experienced in South East Cornwall and much more than double that of a number of other areas including West Penwith, Falmouth & Penryn, and Wadebridge & Padstow.

We will, as always, keep everyone informed about how the Inspector deals with our comments.