Sunday, 4 August 2019

100 years of council housing ...


One hundred years ago, on 31st July 1919, the Westminster Parliament passed the Housing Act (1919). It was momentous legislation that amended the earlier Housing of the Working Classes Act (1890) and brought forward ambitious plans for the provision of council housing with low rents.

The Housing Act had its legislative roots in the Tudor Walters Committee report of 1917 and is known as the Addison Act after the Health and Housing minister, Christopher Addison. It is also linked to the pledge from the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, that he would deliver “habitations fit for the heroes” who had served in the First World War, though his words are more generally remembered as “homes fit for heroes.”

According to the UK Government, the Act “made housing a national responsibility, and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people.” It promised significant subsidies from central government towards the construction of half a million houses within three years and, though subsequent economic problems meant that the funding had to be reduced, a total of 213,000 homes were completed through the provisions of the Act.

The Tudor Walters report specified that new housing should not be tiny terraced units squeezed onto very small plots, but “generously proportioned” houses with good-sized gardens.

The new rental properties provided by St Columb Rural Council in my local area in the early 1920s were certainly as foreseen by MPs. These included Barnfield Terrace in Indian Queens, as shown in the above photograph, Beaconside in Summercourt and Westbourne Terrace in Penhale – where my own father was born about ten years later. 

Another Housing Act followed in 1924 which allotted further funding to local councils, while additional legislation in 1930 lead to the clearance of a large number of slums. Figures show that “inter-war Housing Acts” helped local councils to build 1.1 million new homes.

Strategically, this new approach placed public sector housing at the very heart of government policy and this lasted for more than six decades.

Sadly, this all changed with the sell-off of council housing, which was commenced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government of the 1980s and, I believe, this is one of the reasons why we have such a dysfunctional housing market in the UK today.

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

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

My latest monthly report to St Enoder Parish Council


At tonight’s meeting of St Enoder Parish Council, I tabled my most recent monhly report. It covers the time period of 24th June to 19th July 2019. It was as follows:

Listed below are some examples of the activities that I have been involved with over the last four weeks.

1. Holyer an Gof book awards

I am very pleased to be able to report our book “Trusting Fully Trusting” (about the servicemen of Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt who lost their lives in the First World War) has won an important award.

Parish Council Chairman Michael Bunyan, my wife Ann and I attended Gorsedh Kernow’s Holyer an Gof Publishers’ Awards at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro on 10th July.

The book won Class 5B (best Cornish book about social, cultural and political history published in 2018), but also went on to win the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies Holyer an Gof Cup (for best non-fiction Cornish book published in 2018).

I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone associated with the book awards and their positive view of our publication, which was compiled with the support of the wider community and St Enoder Parish Council.

2. Council meetings and related activities

I have attended a number of formal meetings, briefings and training sessions at Cornwall Council, which include Full Council, the Environment Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee (and workshop), planning training (on a future approach to long-term policy preparation), two meetings with planning officers about the planning situation at Carvynick (of which the second was also attended by the owners), a briefing on the work programme of the Electoral Review Panel, and a meeting of the National Minority Working Group.

There have also been informal meetings with a range of officers at the unitary authority and I have attended two meetings of St Enoder Parish Council.

In addition, I was heavily involved with the first UK National Minority Summit, organised by Cornwall Council, which took place at Falmouth University on 5th July. As well as being at the event, I attended two preparatory sessions and a “working lunch” with a Government Minister and council staff.

Further information about some of these meetings are included later in this monthly report.

3. Other meetings

During the last month, I attended meetings of Indian Queens Pit (trustee) and the “Community Led Local Development” Local Action Group for South and East Cornwall (vice-chairman).

4. Planning matters

4.1 St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan


The statutory consultation on the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan will end on 1st August. On behalf of the Parish Council, I have been liaising with the relevant officers at the unitary authority and an inspector will soon be appointed to formally review the document.

4.2 Carvynick Holiday Park

In my last monthly report, I outlined how a planning inspector had granted outline planning permission for 38 residential units at Carvynick and an office/leisure building. The matters of “access, layout and scale, appearance and landscaping” were reserved and further applications will need to be submitted to set out the detail of what is developed.

I met with planning officers on 24th June to discuss what the inspector had agreed and a further meeting was held with planning officers and the owners of the site (Kingsley Developers (SW) Ltd) on 19th July. At the second meeting, the owners of the site repeated criticism of the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan that they had made at previous meetings of the Parish Council and made a range of comments about how they might develop the site. There was reference to both tourism and residential development, and it would be fair to say that I am unclear about the full nature of their plans and will be seeking further clarification in the coming weeks.

5. Road safety issues and traffic issues

5.1 Indian Queens School


Last month, I was successful in ensuring that the content of the School Travel Plan was included in the Action Plan associated with the Road Casualty Reduction Strategy.

A further meeting was held at the School on 3rd July. It covered a range of issues, but a key focus was on how a large proportion of the field next to the School could be landscaped and fenced off for use by the children, and a path created between the School and the Harvenna Heights estate, thereby creating an additional pedestrian route to the School.

It was noted that the Parish Council had previously stated it would welcome the remainder of the field being devolved into its care. I confirmed this was still the case and I have since met with a senior officer at the unitary authority. We are looking at how the construction of the new path could be funded from a capital pot relating to the devolution of assets to parish councils, in advance of the transfer of the land.

There is to be a follow-up meeting within Cornwall Council on 1st August.

5.2 Re-surfacing and patching

In recent weeks, Cormac has carried out some patching on rural roads in the southern part of the parish and through Trefullock Moor. I have been informed that they will also be re-surfacing The Drang and the Suncrest Estate between 8th and 13th August.

5.3 Double yellow lines

I am continuing to push for faded double yellow lines to be repainted. It is a particular problem along parts of St Francis Road. I have again been in contact with Cormac and the parking team at Cornwall Council.

I have pointed out that as Cormac will be re-surfacing The Drang and the Suncrest Estate between 8th and 13th August, which will include the refreshing of some lineage near the Victory Hall. I have suggested that it would make sense that other faded lines are redone at the same time and this has been agreed in principle.

6. St Enoder Cemetery

As well as maintaining two open cemeteries, St Enoder Parish Council looks after two closed cemeteries. These are the churchyard at St Enoder (which the Parish Council agreed to maintain only a couple of months ago) and the adjacent old cemetery which contains the war memorial.

I am pleased at how the Parish Council is working hard to improve the old cemetery and has decided that, in the coming months, it will re-erect a number of fallen headstones. On 4th July, I was pleased to assist the Parish handyman Nigel Trebell to remove the remains of some tree stumps from the areas where works will be taking place.

7. UK National Minority Summit

I have been a member of councillor and officer team, which organised the first UK National Minority Summit that took place at Falmouth University on 5th July.

I found myself in the fortunate position of being one of three elected members and two council officers who shared a “working lunch” with Government Minister Lord Bourne. He spoke at the Summit and announced £200,000 of funding for Cornish culture and language, but we also used the opportunity to lobby him on a range of issues around the failure of the UK Government to meet its obligations through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

8. Full Council
In advance of the Full Council meeting on 9th July, there was a demonstration outside the Council offices at which a range of groups and individuals set out concerns about the extent of development that is happening across Cornwall and how it is, conversely, not meeting the needs of local communities.

I spoke with a number of the protesters and intend to continue to raise their concerns at future meetings of the authority.

9. Electoral Review Panel

This Panel will soon be starting work on the Community Governance Review, through which the boundaries of local parishes or internal arrangements of parish councils could be changed. The closing date for submissions was last week and, as vice-chairman of the Panel, I am anticipating there will be a massive amount of work associated with this.

I can also confirm that Newlyn East Parish Council has made a submission to include some land near Mitchell (presently in St Enoder Parish) to be shifted to their parish.

10. Newsletter

In recent weeks I have been out and about delivering my latest six-monthly newsletter around St Enoder Parish and I would like to thank everyone who has helped me with this task.

11. Inquiries

During the last month, I have helped numerous people with guidance on a range of issues.

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My next monthly report will be presented to the 24th September meeting of St Enoder Parish Council.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

SOME THOUGHTS ON PLANNING FOLLOWING RECENT DEMONSTRATION AT COUNTY HALL


At last week’s meeting of the unitary authority, a considerable number of campaigners joined together to protest at the level of housing growth across Cornwall. A number of local groups were also present at the demonstration to raise concerns about specific developments which they consider will have an adverse impact on their local area.

A large number of people continue to be angry at the housing target of 52,500 new housing units, for the period 2010-2030, which is included in the Cornwall Local Plan.

I share many of these concerns and I understand people’s frustrations. Not least, this is because, as a local councillor, I have been on the losing side in many planning battles where, I strongly believe, the wrong decisions were taken.

In terms of local planning policy, I was heavily involved in the production of the Local Plan document and argued for a lower housing target of 38,000-40,000, with a stronger focus on the provision of proper local-needs affordable housing. In addition, I recall arguing for less growth in areas such as Bodmin and Newquay, and I was among the small number of members who opposed the so-called “eco-town” in Clay Country.

But overall, I was pretty unsuccessful in my representations and I would describe the process of agreeing the housing target as a “charade.” So much of the debate was not about what would be right for Cornwall, but what might be acceptable to central government.

The final housing target, submitted to the Government, was 47,500 but even this was deemed inadequate by a government-appointed inspector who, following an “Examination in Public,” pushed up the figure to the 52,500.

The reality is that the top-down National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) does largely dictate how local councils deal with planning matters.

In terms of housing targets, I remember the most recent consultation into revisions to the NPPF when the UK Government stated that they expected housing targets for council areas to be calculated using a top-down “standard method.” They even included an appendix in the document showing that if Cornwall’s housing target was recalculated, using their method, it would go up to 58,000.

In all this “toing and froing,” Cornwall Council has come in for significant criticism and I believe it really does need to be much more robust in challenging the diktats of central government.

It is my strong view that we should be uniting around a strong campaign to ensure that all decisions over planning and housing should be taken here in Cornwall, democratically, through a Cornish NPPF, without interference from Whitehall and their inspectors.

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

My thoughts on the recent National Minority Summit


Five years on from the recognition of the Cornish as a national minority, Cornwall Council held the first UK National Minority Summit at Falmouth University on Friday 5th July.

It was a privilege for me to be involved with the organisation of the event and it was great to hear from so many activists from across the Cornish movement. In addition, there were telling contributions from others from further afield such as Professor Tove Malloy (Director of the European Centre for Minority Issues), Cornishman Dr Davyth Hicks (Secretary General of the European Language Equality Network), Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones (University of Wales Trinity St David) and Iain Campbell (University of the Highlands and Islands), plus Montfort Tadier and Ben Spink from Jersey.

Also at the event was Lord Bourne (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) and he used the gathering to announce a one-off payment of £200,000 to support Cornish culture, with three-quarters of the money earmarked for the language.

He spoke about Cornwall’s rich history and distinctive identity, and how “we should support the Cornish language and help it flourish for generations to come.”

I had the opportunity to speak at the summit and, obviously, I welcomed the funding announcement. But I also told the Minister that the UK Government needed to do so much more to meet the wider obligations that it agreed under the Framework Convention. In particular, I reminded him that, in 2014, they had pledged the Cornish would receive a parity of treatment with the other national minorities (Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh) but that this had not transpired as yet.

Lord Bourne knew the challenge was coming as I had the good fortune to share a “working dinner” with him on the night before the summit, along with Cllr Bert Biscoe and Cllr Jesse Foot, Professor Tove Malloy and Dr Davyth Hicks, plus council officers and the Minister’s own staff.

It would be accurate to report that we pressed Lord Bourne on a wide range of issues which also included long-term funding for the Cornish language, greater control over Cornwall’s heritage, better public broadcasting in the Cornish national interest, and a Cornish tick-box on the 2021 census.

He knows that it is our intention to continue to lobby him and others in the UK Government on these and associated matters, and I hope that many people across Cornwall will join us in doing this.

I would like to finish by thanking the council officers who worked so hard to make the summit a success.

[This was my article in last week's Cornish Guardian].

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Big Enough, Rich Enough, Smart Enough


During my recent visit to Scotland – for a week’s holiday – I took the opportunity to read Scottish newspapers and catch snippets of Scottish television. I found the news media to the north of the Tweed to be so very different to the largely London-centred output that we, in Cornwall, have come to accept as the norm.

It was so refreshing to see the news from a national perspective that was not dominated by the South East of England.

There is even one newspaper, launched only in 2014, called The National, which actively campaigns for an independent Scotland. While I was there, it launched another independence campaign titled “Big Enough, Rich Enough, Smart Enough.”

It is a clever initiative. It seeks to reverse the age-old criticism of the push for both devolution and independence, that stated Scotland was “too small and too poor,” while its inhabitants were not clever enough. It is an effort that resonated with me.

As the leader of Mebyon Kernow, I must make it clear that I am not saying that I wish to campaign for an independent Cornwall. I remain 100% committed to securing meaningful devolution for Cornwall within the United Kingdom through a National Assembly.

But the National’s campaign did resonate with me because I can remember the numerous occasions when arguments against greater self-government for Cornwall suggested our nation was also “too small and too poor.” I have also lost count at how many times I have heard people question whether the residents of Cornwall have the where-with-all to govern themselves, and why we need to bring in new people for prominent local jobs as if there is no-one already living in Cornwall who is capable of doing such roles. Remember how David Penhaligon defined an expert as “someone who comes from 150 miles away.”

As the quote from David Penhaligon shows, this has long been a problem and it is just over thirty years since the seminal text “Cornwall at the Crossroads” by Bernard Deacon, Andrew George and Ronald Perry was published.

I believe this book is as relevant now as it was in 1988. It rightly made the case for Cornwall as a special place with a distinct identity, rooted in the strengths of its people and communities, while pointing out how decisions about Cornwall were continuously being based around externally derived assumptions that it was “remote” and “too small” and its people suffered from backwardness.

Looking forward, how about joining me in a “Cornwall is Big Enough, Rich Enough, Smart Enough” campaign?

[This is my article in tomorrow's Cornish Guardian].