Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The balloon went up today

This morning, along with local councillors Fred Greenslade (St Dennis) and John Wood (Roche), I went to St Dennis to see the balloon that was raised to show the height of the proposed incinerator (see right). Please note that we were being helpful and this is not its full height.

Once the balloon was raised to show the full 120m height of the proposed chimney, it was clear that this massive plant, if it was allowed to be built, would be a monster. It would dominate St Dennis and the surrounding area in a totally unacceptable way.

It is important that one and all continue to fight this terrible proposal and put pressure on the County Council’s planning committee to refuse the application.

Incineration is unacceptable and the plan to place such a facility at St Dennis must not be allowed to happen.

We have also responded to the local press and countered the coverage of the trip to see SITA's plant in Bordeaux in France. We trust that it will appear in the press in about a week's time.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Affordable housing in Newquay?

Once again, I am not a happy man. Last week, a number of applications for large amounts of housing in and around Newquay were presented to the Planning Committee at Restormel Borough Council.

I could not participate in the actual debates as all the sites had issues relating to archaeology and, due to my employment, I had to declare an interest.

I did however address the start of the meeting to raise my concerns with how Restormel’s new Supplementary Planning Document on Affordable Housing was being applied.

I reminded members that the new policy seeks properties to sold at a discounted value, as follows:

· One-bedroom properties at an average value of £71,125.
· Two-bedroom properties at two average values of (low) £71,125 and (high) £88,875.
· Three-bedroom properties at two average values of (low) £88,875 and (high) £106,500.

It was clear to me that in the majority of the applications (including three from the Duchy of Cornwall comprising some 700 units) the ‘affordable’ homes on offer were not in line with the new policy.

For the two-bed and three-bed units, values were focused on the higher value band only and there was no attempt to meet the commitment to provide 50% of the two-bed units at £71,125 or 50% of the three-bed units at £88,875. I told the meeting that I considered this to be unacceptable.

I agreed that the Council is duty bound to consider issues relating to viability and other facilities were being offered as part of these developments such as employment land. But no information has been submitted by the Duchy in respect of viability. There was no information about how Convergence money, for instance, might be used to deliver the employment space and I felt such lack of information could be used to weaken the ‘affordability’ of the affordable units.

With respect to the Duchy, it is a long-standing landowner and there has been plenty of spin about the ‘wonderfulness’ of the Growth Area and I would expect them to deliver affordable properties in-line with Council policy.

I challenged the councillors to demand a better deal for our local communities and seek to apply the policy as rigorously as possible.

This did not happen and the applications were passed.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Criticism of eco-town bid

I can report that the cabinet at Restormel Borough Council has backed the call of Policy and Scrutiny Committee 4 (which I chair) to raise objections to the proposed ‘eco-town’ development around St Austell.

I am especially pleased because the Liberal Democrat dominated cabinet watered down the comments in an earlier committee report which objected to the eco-town (see blog for 17 June 2008).

This time around, Policy and Scrutiny 4 had met on 6th January to discuss the new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) on eco-towns and the Sustainability Appraisal of the St Austell proposal. A detailed report on the Imerys proposal, written by myself and Cllr Tim Jones (vice-chairman) was presented to the committee and unanimously endorsed.

A wide range of concerns were raised which have now been backed by the cabinet.

· The Council stated that it did not support the housing-led proposal for an eco-town around St Austell and the China Clay Area.

· The Council reiterated its opposition to the plans to build 15,700 new houses in Restormel over the next 20 years, as set out in the latest version of the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). It felt that such housing growth was not about meeting local needs and was unsustainable.

· It criticised Imerys’ eco-town proposal as being out-of-line with the Government’s PPS as it would be on six separate sites and was not a single ‘new town.’

· The Council challenged the undemocratic top-down nature of the process which they felt undermined the local planning process.

· The Council also stated that it did not believe that the proposal was ‘employment-led’ as claimed. This was especially so with over 50% of the proposed employment land being proposed for the most western individual part of the scheme at Nanpean – some distance from the bulk of the housing at Baal, Blackpool, and Goonbarrow.

· The Council also challenged the statement in the Sustainability Appraisal that the land was all “previously disturbed land” as some of the proposal area was definitely greenfield.

This is in stark contrast to the views of MP Matthew Taylor who gave his backing to the Imerys ‘eco-town’ proposal last week, when government minister Ian Wright visited Cornwall.

It is clear to me that central government plans to build 15,700 new properties and the so-called ‘eco-town’ are inextricably linked. Such a level of housing in the Restormel area is not sustainable and would equate to a massive 35% increase in housing stock in only two decades. If the proposed housing numbers are not reduced, it would mean that we would be expected to accommodate up to 10,000 new houses in and around St Austell during the next two decades. That is not about meeting local needs.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

My first full week of 2009

What a week to start the New Year. Four days of paid employment and lots and lots of meetings.

Along with a number of Restormel councillors on Monday (5th January), I met Kevin Lavery the new Chief Executive of the soon-to-be-created unitary authority. To be fair, he made a reasonably good impression though it waits to be seen what happens in the months ahead. In the evening, it was the Finance Committee of St Enoder Parish Council.

On Tuesday, it was a three-hour meeting of Policy and Scrutiny Committee 4 to discuss the Imerys eco-town proposal and the masterplan for Newquay Airport. The initial officer report on the Government’s eco-town Planning Policy Statement and the Sustainability Appraisal for the St Austell proposal was short so I, as Chairman, with the assistance of my Vice-Chairman Tim Jones, added a lot of information to the report. We were very critical of the proposal and the committee objected unanimously. Our views will be presented to Restormel’s cabinet on the 19th of this month. So watch this space.

There were no formal meetings on Wednesday, though I visited local parishioners in the evening.

On Thursday night, I chaired the last-ever meeting of Restormel’s China Clay Area Committee, which is to be abolished because of the local government changes. It was a bittersweet experience. Over the last eight years we have given out over 110 grants to local community groups totalling £58,000 and provided a good forum for local people to raise issues with us as councillors.

As for Friday, in the afternoon I attended a seminar at Carrick which explored how affordable housing might be delivered once the unitary authority is up and running. In the evening, I was at a meeting in St Dennis with a broad cross-section of people who are working to oppose the construction of a massive incinerator in the area.

Friday, 2 January 2009

New Year Message

In my traditional New Year message to party members, supporters and the people of Cornwall, I challenged one and all to “make sure that the voice of Cornwall is heard loud and clear in 2009.”

In the main part of the statement I focussed on the economic problems facing our communities, as follows:

“It is clear that Cornish communities face difficult times ahead. The economic downturn is already badly affecting thousands of families and this is likely to only get worse in the next few months. As a nation, in these testing times, we must work together to protect and support local businesses and offer real help to those struggling to make ends meet.

“Central government has already acknowledged that the economic downturn will hit ‘peripheral’ areas like Cornwall the hardest. Recent reports that Cornwall’s GVA (economic performance) is only 63% of the UK average and that full-time Cornish wages are only 75% of the UK average further demonstrate that Cornwall’s weaker economy could struggle during the recession.

“It is vital that Cornwall is heard loud and clear in 2009. We must fight to make sure that government expenditure is not focussed on the South East of England and in large cities, but that Cornwall gets its fair share."

I also looked ahead to the elections to the new single tier councila and called on the people of Cornwall to support MK candidates who would be guaranteed to put the interests of Cornish communities first. as follows:

“The undemocratic imposition of a unitary council on Cornwall has led directly to an unhealthy rise in cynicism towards politics and the work of local councils.

“Mebyon Kernow has played its part in backing the people of Cornwall in their opposition to the new council. Sadly, both central government and the Liberal Democrat-run County Council refused to listen to Cornish communities.

“In 2009, MK’s priority will be to work like never before to make sure that pro-active and dedicated pro-Cornwall councillors are elected to the single tier council to make it work as best it can.

“Join us and help us build that strong alternative to the London-centred political parties. Work with us to make a real difference to our local communities.”