Wednesday, 23 September 2020

TEN YEARS WITH THE CORNISH GUARDIAN


This week marks my tenth anniversary as a columnist. It has been a privilege to contribute to the Cornish Guardian on a weekly basis and I would like to thank staff at the newspaper for their help and support over this last decade.

I sincerely hope that my pieces have been worth reading and also thought-provoking, and I would like to extend my thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read what I have produced.

I have written about numerous subjects and I have certainly covered some issues on multiple occasions as they continue not to be resolved – or I happen to disagree with the “progress” that is made.

My first column appeared on Wednesday 22nd September 2010. It was about the massive waste incinerator planned for St Dennis and came less than two weeks before the final session of the Public Inquiry, which granted planning approval for the plant.

As an opponent of the development, I somewhat predictably argued that the case for an incinerator with an annual capacity of 240,000 tonnes did not make environmental sense. This was partly because so much recyclable and bio-degradable material would be burnt when a much better use could be made of these resources.

And because I considered the plant to be over-sized, I made the argument that it did not make economic sense for Cornwall Council and local taxpayers.


Ten years on, my views have not changed. The waste disposal contract is a massive burden on a cash-strapped local authority, which was unable to go forward with the waste collection contract as it desired because of financial constraints.

The significant increase in positive tests for Covid-19 across the United Kingdom and the documented problems with “test and trace” is extremely worrying. It is not right that so many people with potential symptoms of the disease in Cornwall are struggling to book tests or are being offered tests at upcountry venues, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

There have been some reports that the Government is targeting tests at those parts of the country with higher infection levels, but a study by the Times newspaper shows an unacceptable regional inequality in the provision of testing. It documents that 80-100% of people in Northern Ireland and Scotland can get local tests relatively easily, whereas in the Midlands and South East England there is also a strong likelihood that tests can be secured. 

But in many other places, such as Cornwall, people, are really struggling to be seen. This must change and MPs need to ensure greater parity across the UK.

[This was my column in today's Cornish Guardian].

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

My latest Cornwall Councillor report



My latest monthly report will be presented to tonight's virtual meeting of St Enoder Parish Council. It covers the period from 10th August to 20th September 2020, and is as follows:


1.0 Council and other meetings 

Over the last six weeks, I have attended a large number of virtual council meetings and briefings via Microsoft Works and Zoom. These included two meetings of the Cornwall Local Engagement Board (which reviews actions to combat Covid-19), a development session for the Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee (plus a review into the study for the private rented sector), two budget briefings, a Cornish National Minority Working Group (and an associated briefing), three meetings of the BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethic) steering group, six update meetings on the Community Governance Review for the Electoral Review Panel, five meetings for Cornwall Councillors from the China Clay Area, a Group Leaders’ meeting and a briefing in advance of the Full Council meeting on 22nd September.

I also attended a handful of meetings to discuss a range of local issues, as well as one meeting of St Enoder Parish Council and the annual general meetings of the two South and East Cornwall Local Action Groups.

2.0 Traffic matters

The present difficulties have certainly slowed progress on a number of projects that I have been pushing forward, though I do have some positive news to report. 

2.1 New footway from Harvenna Heights estate

As previously reported, the majority of the field to the west of Indian Queens School will become additional recreational space for the School.

The reminder of the land is due to be transferred from Cornwall Council to St Enoder Parish Council, along with a financial sum to construct a pathway to the Harvenna Heights estate. In recent weeks, there have been ongoing discussions about the extent of the land going to the School. A map has been produced and the land coming to the Parish Council is shown marked in red.

I am pleased that the process to transfer the land is now underway.

2.2 Crossings on Chapel Road and St Francis Road

I also have an update on the crossings that I have been seeking in relation to the Travel Plan for Indian Queen School. The feasibility study has been completed and it recommended a zebra crossing on Chapel Road, along with a pedestrian refuge on St Francis Road. Cornwall Council has confirmed that the works will now definitely go-ahead and detailed design work has now been commenced. However, I am continuing to lobby council officers for the suggested crossing on St Francis Road to also be a zebra crossing.

I am awaiting confirmation of the timetable for the design works and the implementation of the scheme.

2.3 Summercourt School

Discussions about improved safety measures outside Summercourt School have been ongoing and I can confirm that I have formally proposed that a scheme be fully worked up and funded through the Community Network monies for highway improvements.

2.4 A3058

The funding is still in place for improvements between the crossroads at Summercourt and the roundabout at Quintrell Downs. The design work for the scheme is nearing completion and includes pedestrian crossings linked to the traffic lights on three of the four roads at the crossroads, plus a permanent vehicle activated sign at the northern entrance into the village. As previously reported, I have secured an additional (south-facing) vehicle activated sign to be placed in St Austell St.

Council officers are planning to visit the village to assess where the vehicle activated signs would be located and I am pushing for this to take place as soon as possible.

2.5 Mobile vehicle-activated sign

I am really pleased that the Parish Council has purchased a new vehicle-activated sign. It is a mobile unit, which we will be placing in various 30 mph zones around the Parish for a few weeks at a time. The sign shows the speed of the approaching vehicle. If it is below 30 mph, it will also flash up “THANK YOU.” If it is over 30 mph, it will flash up “SLOW DOWN.” The speed readings will also be recorded, so that councillors will have evidence to lobby the unitary authority and Police where there are problems.

The first location for the sign was at the approach into Fraddon from St Columb Road, and we have just repositioned it on Moorland Road, Indian Queens.

The Parish Council has received a number of requests about where the sign might be positioned in the future and I am working to come up with an agreed list of locations for the sign.

3.0 Parking issues at Kingsley Village

I continue to receive a large number of representations about the parking problems in the vicinity of Kingsley Village, especially along the stretch of highway where New Road meets the roundabout at Vincents Tractors. I have been in ongoing discussions with council officers, in particular about the travel plan for the complex and the need to get information from the travel plan co-ordinators for the various businesses on the site – but there seems to be a lack of information coming through from them.

At the present time, a meeting is being arranged with senior planning and other officers to seek further action. 

4.0 Planning applications

I have an update on a couple of planning applications.

4.1 Six extra gypsy / traveller pitches at Little Meadows, Toldish (PA20/03553)

Cornwall Council has refused planning permission for six additional gypsy / traveller pitches at Little Meadows, Toldish. There is already a planning consent for six units at the site, which have yet to be constructed.

The reason for refusal was as follows:

“The proposal would appear as incremental encroachment into the open countryside and have an urbanising effect on the rural location, poorly integrated with the wider settlement of Toldish. This would be significantly harmful to the spacious rural character of the area and erode its open qualities in context with the adjacent land uses and low density of development and be out of character with its existing distinctive beauty and character of the undeveloped countryside, especially when viewed cumulatively with the previously permitted six pitches. The proposal would thereby be contrary to policies 1, 2, 12 and 23 of the Cornwall Local Plan 2010-2030 adopted 2016 and policy Landscape 2 of the emerging St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan.”

We understand that the applicant will appeal the decision to the UK Government’s Planning Inspectorate. The Parish Council and I will keep local residents informed about what happens next.

4.2 Twenty dwellings on land adjacent to Lindsay Fields, Fraddon (PA20/01508)

The layout for this application has modified with the addition of garages to all of the properties. It is still being assessed by planning officers.

5.0 Planning White Paper

The Government’s proposed changes to the planning system will be debated at the next Full Council meeting of the unitary authority on 22nd September.

I submitted one motion, while the group leader of the Liberal Democrats also put forward a motion on the same topic. In order to ensure that the Planning White Paper and related changes are debated, the two motions have been merged into one, which Cllr Brown will propose and I will second.

It remains our hope that councillors will unite around the motion, which will be as follows: 

This Council notes that:

1. The Government has published the “Planning for the Future” White Paper and an associated document that would bring forward some more immediate changes to the planning system.

2. The proposals would completely alter the planning system in Cornwall.

3. The Royal Institute for British Architects has called the proposals “shameful” and added they “will do almost nothing to guarantee delivery of affordable, well designed and sustainable homes”. The RIBA has also said that the proposals could lead to the next generation of slum housing.

4. The changes are opposed by the all-party Local Government Association.

5. The issue of land banking is not addressed in the White Paper, even though research by the Local Government Association has demonstrated that there are existing planning permissions for more than one million dwellings across the UK that have not yet been started.

This Council believes that:

6. For all its imperfections, the traditional planning system administered by local authorities allows for significant local democratic input into future development and gives local people a say in planning proposals that affect them.

This Council resolves that:

7. The unitary authority raises strong objections to the proposed changes in the White Paper and linked consultation document, which should include the following:

- An objection to the further centralisation of the planning process, which would undermine the work of Cornwall Council and town and Parish councils, and severely weaken the Cornwall Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans. The changes would also reduce the ability of residents to make meaningful representations on proposals for new housing and other developments in their areas.
- An objection to the “standard method for establishing housing requirement figures,” which has been described by some Councils as a “mutant algorithm.” The changes would increase Cornwall’s 20-year housing target to an extremely unsustainable 81,000 properties – up from the present target of 52,500.
- An objection to the zoning of land, which would allow certain developments to happen without the need for a formal planning application. The changes would risk unregulated sprawl and unsustainable developments – pressures to which many settlements in Cornwall are highly vulnerable.
- An objection to the proposal that a new Local Plan must be completed to a central government template within a 30-month timetable. The changes would reduce the ability of the unitary authority to prepare planning policies best suited to Cornwall.
- An objection that affordable housing would no longer be sought on sites (not deemed designated rural areas) of up to 40 or 50 new properties. The changes would diminish seriously the amount of social rent and affordable housing built in Cornwall and do nothing to tackle the issues associated with second homes and empty properties.
- An objection to the extension of “permission in principle” to larger housing developments, which would further undermine the openness of the planning system.

This Council also resolves to:

8. Raise concerns about the end of Section 106 legal agreements and the introduction of an Infrastructure Levy which could make it more difficult to ensure the delivery of social rent / affordable homes and other community benefits.

9. Raise concerns that the UK Government is failing to address the issue of “land banking.”

This Council further resolves that:

10. The final content of the consultation responses from Cornwall Council / Cabinet Member be discussed with all political groups and the supporters of this motion.

11. The Cornwall Association of Local Councils (CALC) and all local councils in Cornwall are advised of Cornwall Council’s deep opposition to the Government’s proposals.

12. Cornwall Council writes to and lobbies Cornwall’s Members of Parliament urging them to oppose the Government's proposals and to seek their withdrawal, and to circulate their replies to all members of the Council.

6.0 Community Governance Review

I have been spending a considerable amount of time on the review of parish boundaries and arrangements for parish councils, and a number of virtual meetings will be held in the next six weeks to come to a conclusion on a range of requests for change.

7.0 Parish Council matters

I have also been liaising with the Parish Council Clerk on a number of issues, including the construction of the new road in the extension to Indian Queens Cemetery.

8.0 Grants

As a Cornwall Councillor, I have a community chest, from which I give grants to local groups. I have gifted to £200 to St Enoder Youth Club for new equipment and I have covered some of the costs of the Parish Council’s response to the Coronavirus crisis. I still have £1,250 left and I would welcome hearing from local groups who might be interested in funding.

9.0 Inquiries

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

Friday, 18 September 2020

TODAY IS THE ANNIVERSARY FOR WELSH DEVOLUTION ... CORNWALL NEEDS THE SAME


23 years ago today, the people of Wales voted in favour of a Welsh Assembly. MK leader Cllr Dick Cole was in Cardiff, along with a number of number of MK members. Looking back, he writes:

"I have wonderful memories of this particular night, because I was in the Welsh capital for a Channel 4 programme about the outcome of the referendum, which was broadcast from Cardiff Castle.

"For me, it was the first time that I had been invited to take part in a live television debate, but it did not work out as I had anticipated. I was there to comment on the implications of a YES vote for the rest of the United Kingdom but, as it was looking like a NO vote, they did not bother to use me. The programme then ended, ridiculously, before the last regional results were announced and the final outcome known.

"At that time, it would be accurate to say that I was less than happy to have travelled all the way to Wales and not even participated in the debate.

"But Channel 4 had booked me a room at the Park Hotel, where the YES camp was based and had planned their celebratory party.

"When I got there, the mood was dark and sombre, as the campaigners – many of whom had dedicated their lives to the goal of greater self-government for Wales – feared their dream of devolution would not be realised.

"I was present when the final result came in, along with a few others from Cornwall, complete with flags of St Piran. I will never forget the raw emotion of that night, the explosion of sheer joy when everyone realised that they had indeed won the vote, and I am grateful that I was able to be there. Thank you Channel 4 for my night in Cardiff.

"The campaign for Welsh devolution continues to be an inspiration for me. I just hope that we can replicate their success here in Cornwall and win a Cornish Assembly of Parliament."

UPDATE ON CORNWALL COUNCIL MOTION AGAINST CHANGES TO PLANNING SYSTEM


The Government’s proposed changes to the planning system will be debated at the next Full Council meeting of the unitary authority on 22nd September. 

I submitted one motion with the support of MK colleagues, Labour and independent councillors, while the group leader of the Liberal Democrats also put forward a motion on the same topic. In order to ensure that the Planning White Paper and related changes are debated, the two motions have been merged into one, which Cllr Brown will propose and I will second. 

It remains our hope that councillors will unite around the motion, which will be as follows:

CORNWALL COUNCIL OPPOSITION TO PROPOSED CHANGES TO PLANNING SYSTEM

This Council notes that:

1. The Government has published the “Planning for the Future” White Paper and an associated document that would bring forward some more immediate changes to the planning system.

2. The proposals would completely alter the planning system in Cornwall.

3. The Royal Institute for British Architects has called the proposals “shameful” and added they “will do almost nothing to guarantee delivery of affordable, well designed and sustainable homes”. The RIBA has also said that the proposals could lead to the next generation of slum housing. 

4. The changes are opposed by the all-party Local Government Association.

5. The issue of land banking is not addressed in the White Paper, even though research by the Local Government Association has demonstrated that there are existing planning permissions for more than one million dwellings across the UK that have not yet been started.

This Council believes that:

6. For all its imperfections, the traditional planning system administered by local authorities allows for significant local democratic input into future development and gives local people a say in planning proposals that affect them.

This Council resolves that:

7. The unitary authority raises strong objections to the proposed changes in the White Paper and linked consultation document, which should include the following: 

- An objection to the further centralisation of the planning process, which would undermine the work of Cornwall Council and town and Parish councils, and severely weaken the Cornwall Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans. The changes would also reduce the ability of residents to make meaningful representations on proposals for new housing and other developments in their areas.
- An objection to the “standard method for establishing housing requirement figures,” which has been described by some Councils as a “mutant algorithm.” The changes would increase Cornwall’s 20-year housing target to an extremely unsustainable 81,000 properties – up from the present target of 52,500.
- An objection to the zoning of land, which would allow certain developments to happen without the need for a formal planning application. The changes would risk unregulated sprawl and unsustainable developments – pressures to which many settlements in Cornwall are highly vulnerable.
- An objection to the proposal that a new Local Plan must be completed to a central government template within a 30-month timetable. The changes would reduce the ability of the unitary authority to prepare planning policies best suited to Cornwall.
- An objection that affordable housing would no longer be sought on sites (not deemed designated rural areas) of up to 40 or 50 new properties. The changes would diminish seriously the amount of social rent and affordable housing built in Cornwall and do nothing to tackle the issues associated with second homes and empty properties.
- An objection to the extension of “permission in principle” to larger housing developments, which would further undermine the openness of the planning system.

This Council also resolves to:

8. Raise concerns about the end of Section 106 legal agreements and the introduction of an Infrastructure Levy which could make it more difficult to ensure the delivery of social rent / affordable homes and other community benefits.

9. Raise concerns that the UK Government is failing to address the issue of “land banking.” 

This Council further resolves that:

10. The final content of the consultation responses from Cornwall Council / Cabinet Member be discussed with all political groups and the supporters of this motion.

11. The Cornwall Association of Local Councils (CALC) and all local councils in Cornwall are advised of Cornwall Council’s deep opposition to the Government’s proposals.

12. Cornwall Council writes to and lobbies Cornwall’s Members of Parliament urging them to oppose the Government's proposals and to seek their withdrawal, and to circulate their replies to all members of the Council.

Friday, 11 September 2020

UPDATE ON PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES BILL



This week, on Tuesday and Thursday, peers in the House of Lords have been debating aspects of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill through a Committee Stage. 


Paul Tyler, a Liberal Democrat who was previously MP for North Cornwall, has tabled what we understand to be a “probing amendment” on this matter. It will lead to a discussion about the need to “Keep Cornwall Whole” though inevitably there will not be a vote.

The amendment has also been sponsored by Lord Teverson and Baroness Jolly, plus former Conservative Minister Lord Bourne; and it will be debated on Tuesday 15th September.

It is my hope that a more meaningful amendment can be produced and taken forward to the next part of the legislative process – Report Stage – for a formal vote.

I have been lobbying peers involved with the Committee Stage.

I fully accept that Cornwall will continue to have six constituencies wholly within its boundaries (including the Isles of Scilly) after the upcoming review. But I fear that this will not be the case in future reviews (happening every eight years or so).

Projections from the Office of National Statistics show that Cornwall’s population / electorate is anticipated to rise much faster than the UK as a whole. And because the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill only allows a 5% divergence from the average constituency size – it means that by 2030 it will once again be statistically impossible to deliver parliamentary constituencies and fall wholly within the historic boundaries of Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly).

We are continuing to lobby peers and MPs to modify the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill to protect Cornwall as an electoral area and ensure that the UK Parliament meets its obligations through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.