Thursday 31 March 2011

South Crofty

At today’s meeting of Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee, Mebyon Kernow councillors championed two planning applications from Western United Mines to allow the company to mine at South Crofty. The applications were to build and install modern facilities at the mine and also to extend underground working.

MK councillor Neil Plummer (Stithians) proposed that both applications be approved and Cllr Stuart Cullimore (Camborne – see above) was also present and backed the applications. Both of our councillors were passionate in speeches about the importance of the mine to the local area, the potential wealth that could be created at the site and the good quality jobs that would be generated.

Stuart Cullimore has rightly described the decision to allow the planning consents to be fantastic.

Health debate and other announcements

The Government has pulled the plug on the scheme for the sea link to the Isles of Scilly, the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust has announced 400 job losses in an attempt to cut its operating costs by £26 million, while the Police Federation are embroiled in a major row with Devon and Cornwall Police over their approach to cuts of £47m over the next four years.

What a week!

Local concerns about health were debated at Full Council on Tuesday, following the submission of a 5,000 person petition from the Cornwall Labour Party. This called on the Council to organise a referendum on the proposal for Community Health Services to be taken out of the NHS family and into a Community Interest Company.

The leader of the Council moved an amendment that basically said leave the health sector to make its own choices. It was not possible to support the call for a referendum as the Council does not have the power to do this and I, along with the other MK members, supported an amendment from Labour’s Jude Robinson to refer the proposals back to the Health Scrutiny Committee for detailed consideration.

At the meeting, I set out MK’s opposition to the ongoing health reforms and the fragmentation of the NHS, raising our concerns about these changes potentially heeding the break-up of the NHS, the increased involvement of private companies, the pace of change and so much more. I also appealed to the Council to show leadership in seeking to protect the public aspect of public services. Sadly, Jude’s amendment was lost.

Friday 18 March 2011

Disappointment at approach to sale of council offices in St Austell

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the Cabinet voted to pursue negotiations to sell part of the former Restormel Council Offices in St Austell.

The report stated that the Council had received an unsolicited bid for part of the Penwinnick Road site, which might realise in the region of £10 million of capital receipts. It also stated that the receipts could go towards the construction of new offices.

Other claims were made about the maintenance backlog of £1.25m on offices in St Austell and that new offices would be more cost-effective.

I found it surprising that, not so long ago, we were told that the Penwinnick offices were amongst the best that Cornwall Council had, but now “the office space is inflexible in its layout, arranged on split levels and is difficult to navigate.” Difficult to navigate? What codswallop!

It also stated that the “meeting space is designed for the needs of a Borough Council, not a local office within the estate required to serve the Unitary Council.” Not sure what that means.

I was particularly annoyed that, as an elected member, I had been told nothing prior to the Cabinet meeting. The report stated that “local Members in St Austell have been made aware of the position.”

But the St Austell Offices are not just used by St Austell members. It is a “regional” office used by councillors from throughout the former Restormel area, not least for planning matters. Those of us in the China Clay Area, in particular, use it a lot – but no-one had the decency to let us know anything about what was happening.

I was particularly annoyed when the Cabinet member “had a go” at members for “rumours” about office closures, when he had failed to engage or communicate with us at any point.

I asked a series of questions at the meeting. I noted that when the unitary authority was set up, it was made clear that there would be three “operational areas” in Cornwall and the St Austell offices would play a major role within the “Central Area” and continue to be a major employer within the town.

I asked that, if new offices were built, how big they would be, how many staff would be based there, and what services would be run from the town. There were no answers!

It was extremely disappointing that I learnt nothing new at the meeting and I am still waiting for meaningful communication from the Cabinet and leading officers on this issue.

The Stadium for Cornwall

Earlier this week at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet, the Cabinet voted to work up a full business plan for a stadium near Threemilestone for the Cornish Pirates and others (see above).

There was considerable support at the meeting, though a number of members expressed concerns about the costs and the long-term viability of the venture. Most Cabinet members stated that there were questions that needed to be answered and were looking for more information in order to do just that.

I take the view that Cornwall has as much right to first-rate sporting facilities as elsewhere in the United Kingdom and I fully support getting a Stadium for Cornwall. Indeed, I would like to see a National Stadium for Cornwall.

At the meeting however, the information presented to councillors included references to plans for 1,700 houses nearby while there were also rumours about another supermarket for the locality.

In fact, I did get extremely frustrated by the debate at County Hall. Little was said about the potential associated development and a number of times the meeting was told this wasn’t about planning when it was! I indicated that I wished to speak but was not amongst the councillors who were called.

It was my view that it was disappointing that, firstly, there was little mention of existing planning policies. And secondly, no thought was given to ongoing work on new policies for Cornwall.

Truro Councillor Rob Nolan is presently chairing a working group that is looking at the future development of Truro and surrounding areas. It is investigating the scale of housing that would be appropriate in and around the City and where such development might go, in order to inform future planning policies to guide development in this part of Mid Cornwall.

But Cornwall Council has already darted ahead of this process by submitting a planning application for a park and ride scheme on the eastern side of Truro (including housing), while a range of other large schemes are being promoted on sites around Truro.

It is my view that Cornwall Council has a lot of work to do to ensure a more joined-up approach to planning and the development of planning policy for the future.

Monday 14 March 2011

A tale of two councils ... The Kelliers

Last week’s Newquay edition of the Cornish Guardian carried a story about an ongoing disagreement between my local Parish Council and Cornwall Council. I would like to take this opportunity to say a little more about the dispute.

In March 2009, in advance of the creation of the new unitary authority, Restormel Borough Council agreed to transfer an area of rough ground known as The Kelliers to St Enoder Parish Council for the sum of £1. Parish councillors were keen to improve the Kelliers as a nature area for local residents.

That decision was subject to the approval of the Implementation Executive (IE) which was setting up the new council. This was very much a rubber-stamping exercise and all previous requests to the IE for land transfers had been granted. We were even informed by council officers that the consent for the Kelliers had been given.

Over the next six months, I made numerous requests on behalf of the Parish Council for the land transfer to be actioned and at no point was the Parish Council informed that there were any problems with the land sale.

In December 2009, a solicitor representing Cornwall Council contacted the Parish Council to arrange the sale and by February had informed them that he would “soon have a draft contract for approval.” St Enoder Parish Council even instructed solicitors to act its behalf.

But then suddenly, Cornwall Council stopped the land transfer claiming that, twelve months previously, the decision had not been endorsed by the IE. They did not even have the courtesy to inform the Parish Council of their change of heart and it only came to light when I chased up the lack of progress.

At this point I contacted the Chief Executive and leading councillors and was informed that the Council had a “moral obligation to settle along the lines of the original proposal.”

After much digging, I also discovered that, in March 2009, officers had made a conscious decision not to follow through with certain land transfers because they were busy, thereby circumventing the whole democratic process.

In September last year, the issue was referred to a meeting of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet and the Cabinet decided to offer to transfer the land to the Parish Council but not in the manner previously agreed.

Instead of selling the freehold, the Cabinet proposed a 99-year lease with a break clause. It was made clear that the Parish Council would be responsible for all maintenance and all costs, but to my astonishment the break clause would allow Cornwall Council to take back all or part of the land at any time – giving the Parish no security of tenure whatsoever.

So much for the “moral obligation” to respect the original deal agreed with Restormel Borough Council.

In recent months, I have continued to attempt to persuade representatives of Cornwall Council to honour the original agreement, but I have not been successful. However, they did advise that they would “consult” with the Parish Council before they made any decision to take the land back.

So much for localism and supposedly wishing to work with Parish and Town Councils!

It was therefore not particularly surprising when members of St Enoder Parish Council accused Cornwall Council of treating them with contempt and voted unanimously not to proceed with the option of a 99-year lease containing such an unfair break clause.

I remain extrelmely unhappy with the way that Cornwall Council has treated my local Parish Council and I am still pondering what else I can do on this matter.

Be Cornish on the Census

This weekend, I filled out my census form and made sure that I recorded my nationality / ethnicity as Cornish. I also recorded my country of birth as Cornwall. If you haven't seen it, shown above is the poster that has been produced to encourage people to be counted as Cornish.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Incinerator decision now due on 16th April

It seems that we are edging ever nearer to a decision on proposed incinerator at St Dennis. It has just been confirmed that the Planning Inspector’s report from the Public Inquiry has been submitted to the Secretary of State, though we have not been informed what he is recommending.

Some months back, it was announced that Mr Pickles would announce his decision on or before the 2nd June 2011. But today, we have heard that the target date for the Secretary of State is now 16th April.

Also this week, I attended the latest meeting of the Waste Advisory Panel at County Hall. On the agenda was the Council’s preliminary work on its Waste Needs Assessment – basically, its estimate of the amount of waste that is likely to be generated in the future.

You will remember that the former County Council proposed that the incinerator would deal with Cornwall’s domestic waste and would have an annual through-put of 240,000 tonnes.

I am heartened that the early drafts of this work on the Needs Assessment has confirmed one of the key arguments that we made at the Public Inquiry – namely, that a 240,000 tonne incinerator would be massively over-sized.

The early findings of their report suggested that, if we achieved Government recycling targets, the whole of Cornwall would only generate enough residual waste to fill around 60% of the monster.

Sunday 6 March 2011

St Piran's Day and the census

This weekend, I was one amongst thousands celebrating St Piran’s Day. A long-standing tradition, it is also an ever more popular way of celebrating all that is great about Cornwall – our history, culture, language, music, food and so much more.

I certainly find it heartening to see people’s growing confidence in their Cornish identity and also that more communities, groups, sports clubs and businesses organised events to mark our national saint’s day than ever before.

Later this month, we will have another wonderful opportunity to record our Cornishness through the 2011 Census which will take place on Sunday March 27th.

Question 15 will ask: “What is your national identity?” Tickboxes offered will include English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and British.

The Government has refused to allow Cornish people a tickbox to record their nationality but, for the second census in a row, the Office of National Statistics has allocated a census code to “Cornish” so we can record ourselves as Cornish through write-in options.

This means that if you wish to record your nationality as Cornish, you can tick the “Other” box and write in “Cornish’ in the space provided. In 2001, over 37,000 people did exactly that.

Question 16 will ask: “What is your ethnic group?” Five sections will describe a range of broad ethnic backgrounds. For example, under “White,” the options are a collective English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British, Irish, Gypsy/Irish Traveller, and Other.

To record yourself as Cornish, you will need to pick the section which you think best represents your broad ethnic background, tick the “Other” box and write in “Cornish” in the space provided.

Question 9 will ask where individuals were born, while Question 18 will ask: “What is your main language?” In both these cases, you can also use “Other” boxes to record yourself as Cornish-born or as Cornish speakers, if that is appropriate.

It is my belief that this census represents a wonderful opportunity to ensure that our Cornishness is recorded. Please speak with your family, friends and neighbours to ensure that they take full advantage of the various write-in options.

It also needs to be stated that this census is an important survey, which will record information to be used by central and local government, health authorities and other agencies to plan and provide public services. The results will also be used by future governments when they decide how much money is allocated to the different parts of the United Kingdom – it is estimated that for every person that fails to complete the census, the Council, NHS and Police will together lose £330.

Friday 4 March 2011

The Devonwall Bill – some facts and comment

Over the last week, I have chatted to friends who were under the misapprehension that Cornwall’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs had actually voted against the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – the Bill that will lead to a cross-Tamar Devonwall parliamentary seat.

They were shocked when I told them that the MPs had actually voted for the Bill, in the full knowledge that it would breach the territorial integrity of Cornwall.

I thought that it would be a good exercise to actually set out a few basic facts, alongside some biased comments from me.

1. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was cobbled together by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, in order to deliver a reduction in the number of MPs (for the Tories) and a referendum on AV (for the Liberal Democrats).

2. MPs and leading lights in both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats supported the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign, which sought to ensure that the Tamar would be protected in any future review of the boundaries of parliamentary seats.

3. Speaking at the Saltash Keep Cornwall Whole Rally in October, Sheryll Murray MP for South East Cornwall (Conservative) told the crowd: “We must fight the destruction of our historic border by the political map … if not successful in the House of Commons, we will take the fight to the House of Lords and if we are not successful there, we will fight to preserve this boundary and we will fight on and on to make sure that the border between our historic Duchy and the rest of the United Kingdom is protected.”

4. Speaking at the same Keep Cornwall Whole Rally, Stephen Gilbert MP for St Austell and Newquay (Liberal Democrat) said: “This is Cornwall and that is England and lets keep it that way … if Westminster had any doubt about our resolve and commitment to defend and protect our ancient right, our national identity, that myth and that illusions should be dispelled here and now … I know what my job is when I go back to Parliament this week, my job is to vote against the Government and vote for an amendment that keeps the boundary of Cornwall intact.”

5. When the Bill was debated in the House of Commons, an amendment was moved to protect parliamentary boundaries in a number of areas including parts of Scotland, Anglesey and the Isle of Wight, as well as Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly. All six Cornish MPs backed the amendment, but it was voted down by 315 votes to 257 votes. Over 95% of Coalition MPs voted against the amendment.

6. At the Third Reading of the Bill, following the failure of the pro-Cornwall amendment, it was supported by a total of 321 votes to 264 votes. Five of Cornwall’s six MPs voted for the Bill, with Andrew George abstaining. So much for the promises of Sheryll “we will fight on and on” Murray and Stephen “my job is to vote against the Government” Gilbert.

7. In the House of Lords, an amendment to protect the Isle of Wight was supported. A further amendment was moved by Lord Teverson to ensure that “all parts of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly must be included in constituencies that are wholly in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.” This was lost by 250 votes to 221 votes, with 95% of Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers voting against the amendment. A single Conservative peer and 11 Liberal Democrats, backed the amendment. It was opposed by 153 Conservatives and 63 Liberal Democrats.

8. FACT. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have voted through a Bill, which protects the borders between the nations of England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the boundaries of two Scottish seats and the Isle of Wight – but not the historic nation of Cornwall.

9. FACT. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have failed Cornwall. Every time they had a chance to vote for Cornwall, the vast majority of Coalition MPs and Lords did the exact opposite.

10. FACT. Cornwall’s MPs spoke out against the Bill and made a lot of noise, but they failed to persuade many of their colleagues to vote against the Bill. The Cornish MPs themselves also refused to vote against the Bill.

Yes for Wales

It is so pleasing to see the resounding yes vote in the referendum on further powers for the Welsh Assembly, with 21 of its 22 counties delivering a Yes vote. Well done Wales.

It certainly brings back fond memories of when I was in Cardiff for the 1997 referendum. I had been invited onto a Channel 4 late night results programme in order to comment on the implications of a Yes vote for the rest of the UK. But because it looked like it was going to be a No vote, I was not used.

However, I did get to attend the Yes party at the Park Hotel where we watched the knife-edge vote finally make devolution a reality … and then we celebrated.

Fourteen years on, it is inspiring to see the growing confidence in Wales and their developing democracy, with all significant political parties backing greater powers.

Here in Cornwall it remains so different, having been forced up the dead-end of local government reform by the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Thursday 3 March 2011

The Core Strategy

In my column in this week's Cornish Guardian, I have tried to promote Cornwall Council's consultation on its Core Strategy. As the Chairman of the Planning Policy Panel, I have been heavily involved with the work behind the document.

The article is quite neutral and aimed at encouraging people and communities to tell the Council what they think. It is as follows:

Cornwall Council is presently undertaking its first consultation on its Core Strategy, which will form part of Cornwall’s Local Development Framework. This may not sound exciting, but it is extremely important. The Local Development Framework will be the planning blueprint that will guide future development in Cornwall between now and 2030.

The Core Strategy will be a wide-ranging document, but this initial consultation primarily asks two key questions.

The first one is “how much” housing do you think would appropriate for Cornwall over the next twenty years. The consultation document notes that, over the last two decades, an average of 2,250 new properties were built each year.

It sets out three possible levels of future growth – Low (38,000 dwellings; 1,900 per year); Medium (48,000 dwellings; 2,400 per year) or High (57,000 dwellings; 2,850 per year) for comment. It also challenges people to come up with their own suggestions about the right levels of growth for Cornwall.

The second questions asks “where” new housing developments might be located.

Local people are asked about their views on three broad alternatives. The document seeks views on whether the new housing should be (i) concentrated in and around key towns (ii) dispersed more evenly across Cornwall or (iii) positioned close to areas containing key employment sites.

To be frank, the consultation is very mechanistic, but Cornwall Council is obliged by the Government to present alternatives. The reality is that whatever is finally agreed upon, it will undoubtedly be much more complex, varied and suited to the priorities of individual areas and communities.

I am the Chairman of the Planning Policy Panel at County Hall which will be looking in detail at the responses. I will certainly do my utmost to ensure that all local views are taken into account in a fair and open manner, as the policy document is developed.

As far as I am concerned, this consultation represents a wonderful opportunity for you to tell Cornwall Council what you want for Cornwall and your home areas over the next twenty years. Please take the time to have your say.

To find out more about the Core Strategy consultation, you can go to Alternatively, you can request the documents from the Strategic Policy Team, Cornwall Council, Circuit House, St Clement House, Truro TR1 1DT or from

Action on fuel prices

Once again, it has been a couple of weeks since my last blog. In that time, I have had a couple of articles published in the Cornish Guardian. Last week, I chose the topic of the ever-increasing price of fuel. The article was as follows:

The cost of petrol and diesel is at an all-time high. It is estimated that January’s fuel duty increase and the hike in VAT to 20% have together added 3.5p to the price of each and every litre of fuel.

I understand that petrol prices in the UK before tax are the second cheapest in Europe, while diesel prices are the third cheapest. But the cost of fuel to actual motorists is the highest due to tax – 61 per cent of the cost of petrol is paid to the Exchequer while for diesel it is 62 per cent.

Earlier this month Mebyon Kernow’s sister parties in Wales and Scotland, Plaid Cymru and the SNP, used their annual Opposition Day debate to call on the Conservative-led Coalition to fulfil its pre-election pledge to establish a fuel duty regulator.

The MPs wanted to cap, and then reverse, spiralling prices at the pump. They also sought to persuade the Government to postpone a further duty increase of 1p planned for April.

Their motion was comprehensive. It noted the financial pressure caused to hard pressed families and businesses already struggling with the economic downturn, recognised the additional fuel costs for people living in the remote and rural parts of the UK, condemned the Government for its failure to implement a fuel duty regulator (or stabiliser) and called for action in the most remote areas at the earliest opportunity.

I fully agree with the Plaid and SNP MPs that the Government needs to rethink its approach to fuel taxes. For many people in rural areas like Cornwall, a car is not a luxury but a necessity. And massive fuel taxes are already having a very detrimental impact on families, small businesses, rural and farming enterprises throughout the country.

The motion certainly enjoyed widespread support from leading industry bodies and motorist groups.

In the debate, Treasury Minister Justine Greening claimed the Government was considering "all options" in the run-up to their Budget in March, when she promised to give an "update" on how the Government might be able to reduce the amount of tax it sought from taxes on petrol and diesel.

The motion was resoundingly defeated by the Government and all six of Cornwall’s MPs voted against the Plaid Cymru and SNP proposal. It remains to be seen whether the Coalition is listening and will act to address the concerns of millions of people in areas like ours.