Monday, 23 November 2015

Cornwall Council to suffer “rushed” boundary review

Three representatives of the “Local Government Boundary Commission for England” (sic) were in Cornwall today to meet with the leaders of the various political groups on the unitary authority.

We all assumed this was to discuss the timetabling of the “boundary review” which Cornwall Council and central government had agreed would commence soon after the 2017 elections, well in advance of 2021 elections when the changes would be implemented. How wrong we were!

The representatives of the Commission told us that we had to commence a review immediately, and that the 2017 council elections would then be contested on whatever new boundaries were agreed.

All members were aghast at the meeting and we collectively pointed that such reviews should be done properly and not pushed through in a rush. But we were told – in no uncertain terms – that what we thought did not matter in the slightest.

If the Commission keeps to its own timetable (unlikely), it will not publish its final recommendations until January 2017 – just weeks before the actual elections.

The process will have two main elements.

First, there has to be agreement about the size of the unitary authority (ie. number of councillors). A reduction in councillor numbers is now inevitable, and we were informed that the number of elected members would need to be between 28 and 107! No – I do not know where their figures have come from.

And second, the actual divisions would need to be agreed with electorates that are broadly similar.

We were presented with a timetable (for the Commission itself) as follows:

19th April 2016 – Agreement of council size.
24th April 2016 – Consultation on “warding patterns.”
16th August 2016 – Meeting about draft recommendations.
6th September 2016 – Consultation on draft recommendations.
10th January 2017 – Final recommendations published.
Mid-late January 2017 – Order laid.

Readers of my blog might be interested to know that the so-called “devolution deal” between Cornwall Council and central government included the following:

“Cornwall Council will take forward a council boundary review. The boundary review is expected to reduce the number of local councillors and will be taken forward by the Boundary Commission. This review will commence in 2017.”

When this was presented to Cornwall Council in July this year, councillors stated that the presumption that the number of elected members should be reduced was not appropriate. The “Deal” was agreed on the understanding, amongst other things, that this statement be removed but central government apparently did not have time to do this.

And now the agreement that the review should commence in 2017 has shown that pledge to worthless.

More information to follow when it becomes available.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Report on Strategic Planning Committee; pig farm and biogas plant at Higher Fraddon

I have just got back from New County Hall, Truro, following the Strategic Planning Committee meeting, which considered the retrospective application for the redevelopment of the pig farm at Higher Fraddon as well as the two applications relating to the biogas plant and its traffic movements.

The debate took about four-and-a-half hours, and I was really impressed with the thorough scrutiny given to the applications by the members of the Committee.

Local people speaking at the meeting included Mel Morcom, Helen Martin, Sam Williams, Bella MaCarthy, Anne Woolcock and Joszef Varga. All did extremely well. Michael Hopkins meanwhile spoke on behalf of the Parish Council, while Dan Johns was also there for the pig farm.

So what happened …

The first application relating to the pig farm was passed. Councillors voted – in principle – by 14 votes to four to consent the redevelopment of the pig farm with additional and stronger conditions. The planning officers were given delegated authority to finalise the conditions – in consultation with the Chairman and Vice-chairman of the Committee, plus me. However, it was also agreed that if I was not happy with the conditions, I could refer the application back to the Committee.

The members of the Committee did listen to local residents and agreed that conditions should ensure bio-filter (or equivalent) odour treatment should be inserted into all the livestock buildings. It was also agreed that the construction of the two new buildings they wanted could not commence until all existing buildings had been retrofitted with odour control.

Members also felt that the large livestock lorry, which had caused all manner of problems, should no longer go the farm and instead be replaced by a couple of smaller lorries. Dan had told me prior to the meeting that he was already investigating this and it should happen.

It was a different story with the biogas plant. Members of the Planning Committee seemed to universally share the concerns of local residents about how the plant had developed through the non-material amendments, the impact of the traffic, etc. Many were extremely angry at what had transpired, with a number speaking about the public meeting a few weeks back and their own visits to the lane.

The biogas applications were deferred so that the Council could make the case for an access off the A30 with Highways England, with the MP and other interested parties. No members spoke in favour of the applications and a number spoke strongly about refusing the application.

If no agreement can be reached with regard to the A30, it was clear that the councillors will look to refuse the application when it is brought back to the Committee. I have to say that I cannot remember a meeting when councillors were so united against a proposal.

I spoke to Ann Double, who was at the meeting on behalf of her husband Steve Double MP, and she has already confirmed she will be helping to chase up about the Highways England meeting tomorrow.

I will continue to keep everyone about progress from this point.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Percentage figures for housing growth set out in Cornwall Local Plan

Following my earlier blog entry this evening, I have been asked to post the [percentage] figures for housing growth for the various Community Network Areas across Cornwall.

The Cornwall Local Plan includes housing figures for the period 1991-2010 which showed that increases in housing stock, over that period, were as follows:

47%; China Clay Area
32%; Newquay / St Columb
30%; St Austell / Mevagissey
29%; Launceston
28%; Camelford
25%; Bodmin
23%; Bude
21%; Hayle / St Ives
20%; Truro /Roseland
20%; St Agnes / Perranporth
19%; St Blazey / Fowey / Lostwithiel
18%; Camborne / Pool / Redruth
18%; Wadebridge / Padstow
16%; Caradon
16%; Helston / Lizard
16%; West Penwith
14%; Falmouth / Penryn
14%; Liskeard / Looe
12%; Cornwall Gateway

I consistently argued that because Clay Country has experienced so much housing growth in recent years, it merits a breathing space going forward. But Cornwall Council is pushing the “eco-community” and, once again, (proportionately) more housing is to be built in the China Clay Area than elsewhere.

If the housing figures proposed in the present draft of the Cornwall Local Plan are developed by 2030, the extent of housing growth in each Network Area over four decades (1991 - 2030) would be as follows:

87%; China Clay Area
75%; Newquay / St Columb
74%; Bodmin
64%; Launceston
52%; St Austell / Mevagissey
51%; Truro /Roseland
50%; Bude
50%; Hayle / St Ives
49%; Camelford
46%; Camborne / Pool / Redruth
40%; Wadebridge / Padstow
36%; St Agnes / Perranporth
35%; Liskeard / Looe
35%; St Blazey / Fowey / Lostwithiel
34%; Falmouth / Penryn
34%; Helston / Lizard
34%; West Penwith
30%; Caradon
26%; Cornwall Gateway

It remains my view that the level of housing growth in the Mid Cornwall area is inappropriate and unsustainable, but other councillors do not appear to agree with me following today's vote on the "eco-community."

It is worth noting that the high levels of growth proposed in Bodmin and Newquay are as a consequence of support from local councillors in those towns.

The full statistics for the China Clay Area (supplied by Cornwall Council) are as follows:

Parish dwellings in 1991 - 7,541
Parish dwellings in 2010 - 11,066
Housing growth (1991 – 2010) - 3,525
Proposed Local Plan target - 1,800
Proposed eco-town - 1,200
Projected number of parish dwellings in 2030 - 14,066
- Increase in housing stock (1991 - 2030) - 6,525
- Increase in housing stock (1991 - 2010) - 47%
- Increase in housing stock (1991 - 2030) - 87%

Today, I failed to get the “eco-community” removed from the Cornwall Local Plan

I chaired the latest (four-hour) meeting of the Planning Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) at Cornwall Council, this afternoon.

The one item on the agenda was the latest version of the Cornwall Local Plan, which has been redrafted following the first stage of the Examination in Public who took place in May.

As a result of the Examination, the government inspector instructed the Council to make a series of changes to make the document “sound,” and therefore adoptable. This included increasing Cornwall’s housing target for the period 2010-2030.

Today, the officers presented a new FOAN (Full Objectively Assessed Need) for Cornwall, which followed guidance set in place by central government. The new target is 52,500 new properties for the plan period, which was accepted by councillors.

It is fair to say that members struggled to envisage how a lower figure could be acceptable to the Inspector. They were also fully aware that David Cameron had recently told councils that, if a local plan was not in place by 2017, the government would step in and take control of the process away from local councillors and impose [an even worse] plan.

There was also much discussion around other aspects of the revised Local Plan, particularly around affordable housing and the distribution of housing development around Cornwall.

I took the opportunity to argue that the proposal for an “eco-community” near St Austell should be removed from the document.

I told the meeting that:

-  An “eco-community” proposal had been included in the Cornwall Local Plan because central government had included a St Austell “eco-town” in a Planning Policy Statement. But since the PPS has recently been withdrawn, councillors could legitimately reconsider whether the allocation was appropriate.
-  If the level of housing proposed for the China Clay Area (including eco-community) was allowed to go forward, it would mean that the housing stock of Clay Country would increase by 87% over four decades (from 1991 to 2030).
-  The “live” application for a 1,500 unit eco-community does not have local support. It has been opposed by over 1,000 representations, two local parish councils and St Austell Town Council.
-  Last month, the China Clay Community Network Area had written to Cornwall Council seeking that the unitary authority withdraw its backing for the "eco-community."

This part of the meeting was a little fractious and a number of councillors spoke in favour of the “eco-community”, while others argued that they did not want to change the “distribution” at this “late stage” or that high housing growth in Clay Country in the past was not enough to justify a breathing space at this time.

I nonetheless proposed that the “eco-community” allocation be removed from the document, and the housing reallocated to other parts of Cornwall. This was seconded by independent councillor Gary King from St Austell, but I was extremely disappointed that the proposal was defeated by six votes to two.

The unitary authority’s Cabinet will consider the Local Plan on 3rd December, followed by the Full Council on 15th December.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Hypocrisy ... Cameron complains about council cuts

Two months ago in the Cornish Guardian, I strongly expressed my view that the blame for cuts being implemented by Cornwall Council (and other local authorities) should be placed squarely at the door of central government.

Here in Cornwall, recent headlines have focussed on plans to shift council leisure centres to the private sector, and pass one-stop shops and libraries to parish councils and community groups – both of which I do not support.

But I do have enormous sympathy for the councillors on the Cabinet who have brought forward these proposals – which they themselves would prefer not to have to implement – because such proposals are a direct consequence of central government’s deep cuts.

What is more, Government ministers have had the nerve to criticise cash-strapped councils for retreating from some frontline services.

It has now transpired that the Prime Minister – who represents an Oxfordshire constituency – recently wrote a private letter to Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, to complain about local cuts.

David Cameron’s letter stated that he was “disappointed at the long list” of suggested cuts to frontline services which included “elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums.” He also condemned the “unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children’s centres across the county.”

Cameron’s letter told the council leader that he should be making “back-office savings” and unbelievably claimed that “spending had increased in the authority in recent years.”

It was certainly heartening to see the robust response of the true-blue Mr Hudspeth, who pointed out government grants had actually been cut by £72m or 37%.

It almost unbelievable that David Cameron can write such ill-informed letters, containing inaccurate information. It clearly shows that he does not understand the impact of his Government.

One journalist (George Monbiot) put it better than I might:

“David Cameron hasn’t the faintest idea how deep his cuts go. This letter proves it … have you ever wondered how the Prime Minister sleeps at night? How can he live with himself after imposing such gratuitous pain upon the people of this nation? Well now, it seems, you have your answer: he appears to be blissfully unaware of the impact of his own policies.”

It now remains to be seen whether Cornwall’s six Tory MPs will be quick to use this “revelation” to put pressure on the Prime Minister and Chancellor to reverse cuts to local government and Cornwall Council, in particular.

[This will be my article in this week’s Cornish Guardian].