Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

My latest column in the Cornish Guardian focuses on the publication of the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It is as follows:

The Coalition Government has launched a draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It is a mere 52 pages long and will replace more than 1,300 pages of planning rules and regulations. Senior politicians such as Eric Pickles MP and Greg Clark MP are claiming that the planning system is too complex and forbidding – the preserve of specialists – and that they are making it simpler for “people in communities” to understand and use.

They are making grand statements about the new Framework and how it will free local communities from central government intervention. But the reality does not match the spin.

The document contains a “presumption in favour of development.” It states that “decision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is yes” and that councils should grant consent where local planning documents are silent, indeterminate or dated.

The document also promotes the concept of “Neighbourhood Plans” which they claim will give “communities direct power to plan the areas in which they live.” But it also states that these plans must be aligned with national and key council documents, taking away any significant local discretion on strategic issues.

The National Trust has condemned the new planning rules, stating that it could mean “unchecked and damaging development … on a scale not seen since the 1930s.” It has also called on central government “to ensure that the economic, environmental and social benefits of development go hand in hand” and damaging developments are not pushed through on narrow economic grounds.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has meanwhile claimed the reforms “will place the countryside under increasing threat and leave local communities and planning authorities largely powerless in the face of developer pressure.”

One local MP has also denounced the proposals of his own Government, claiming that they put “greed” before “need” and “would turn places like Cornwall into a ‘developer’s paradise’ and stop stone dead any chance of us ever meeting our desperate local housing need.”

All these concerns are valid. And it is my hope that individuals and groups will challenge the Government to rethink much of the Framework through its consultation which will last until 17th October.

It is certainly disappointing to see that the Framework bears little relation to the campaign speeches made by local Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs in their election campaigns only last year.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Be brave … Cornwall is a nation

This morning I attended a meeting of Cornwall Council’s Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and took part in the debate on a Culture White Paper.

I asked a provocative question about how the Council perceived Cornwall in terms of its culture and territorial status. I even challenged the members to “be brave” and to refer to Cornwall as a nation.

In terms of the document, on page 5, it referred to both the Cornish and international communities, but prefixed Cornish with “local.” On the same page, the vision referred to Cornwall as an “international rural region.” A bit confused here … if we are truly “international” that reflects Cornwall’s nationhood, not some concept of regionality or indeed localness.

On page 15, I was delighted to see reference to a “National Archive for Cornwall” – not a local or regional archive, but a National Archive! Fantastic stuff.

However, lower down the same page, another project was described. This was the “International Theatre of Cornwall” based on the “successful National Theatres of Scotland and Wales – although this time people were, for some unfathomable reason, scared to describe ours as a National Theatre!

Leading council officers have asked to discuss this issue further with me, but in the meantime they will continue to describe Cornwall as (please delete as appropriate) (i) a locality / (ii) a region / (iii) a nation / (iv) all three descriptions, sometimes (v) something else!

Justice system - double standards

My column in this week's Cornish Guardian builds on my previous comments on the rioting. It focuses on some of the sentencing that followed and the double-standards. Thanks to Cornish Zetetics, who I have quoted. The piece was as follows:

Civilized countries need a justice system that treats everyone fairly, is consistent and proportionate, and seeks to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes.

You may recall that in last week’s Cornish Guardian, I wrote about the rioting that had taken place in a number of English cities. And I welcomed the fact that those individuals who rioted, and took part in violent disorder, were being dealt with severely by the courts.

I stand by that view, but I did not envisage that I would be so perplexed at the extent of some of the sentences being handed out.

For example, I could not comprehend why one single parent with no previous convictions, who did not take part in the riots but accepted a single piece of stolen clothing, could be sentenced to five months in jail.

One local on-line commentator has compared the experience of this woman to those of another, more fortunate, class of individual – an MP. He wrote:

Ursula Nevin – “Stretford woman (two children, one and five years old) in prison for five months after pleading guilty to receiving stolen goods (a pair of shorts) from a rioter.”

Hazel Blears MP – “Salford woman (no children) accused of defrauding taxpayers of £13,320 in unpaid capital gains tax. When discovered admitted guilt by writing out cheque for Inland Revenue. Remains uncharged. Not in prison and keeps her £65,000 a year salary.”

I consider this to be a telling comparison. It shows that there is massive inequity at the heart of our justice system. How could one person receive such a disproportionate sentence? And would she have been “got off” if she had offered to give the shorts back – of course she wouldn’t have!

I am particularly appalled at the comments of right-wing MPs, who have been lining up to demand ever more severe sanctions on offenders including the eviction of families from their homes.

One of the most outspoken Tories has been work and pensions spokesman James Clappison, who has even called for a reduction in benefit payments.

But this is man who already owns two “homes” outright – as well as 22 other properties – and yet has somehow managed to claim over £100,000 in second home expenses (or benefits) since 2001. Money which was spent on such things as utility bills, property improvements including the refurbishment of brass fittings on his front door, a television licence and cable television bill, as well as gardening costs – including petunias, geraniums and busy lizzies.

It’s another wonderful case of double standards if you ask me.

For information, Ursula Nevin has rightly had her sentence reduced to 75 hours community service. James Clappison MP has paid back the £38.50 he should not have claimed for bedding plants. No action has been taken and he has not been jailed for five months.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Plaid Cymru MP to speak at MK Conference in November

I am pleased to announce that Jonathan Edwards (see left), the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, has agreed to speak at MK’s Conference in November.

He will join Kenneth Gibson, an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament, and a host of other speakers at the event, which is intended to mark our 60th year in style.

It will take place over the weekend of the 19th and 20th November at the Shire House Suite in Bodmin.

The Saturday will showcase MK, its policies and include “A Rally for a Cornish Assembly.” Mebyon Kernow members and non-members are invited to attend and entry is free.

In the evening, there will be a buffet and entertainment for one and all to enjoy. Tickets for the concert / buffet will be £10 per person.

Mebyon Kernow’s formal AGM will take place on the Sunday, when there will be debates about party policy and sessions on campaign strategy.

Tickets for the concert / buffet can be ordered from the Conference co-ordinator Cllr Stephen Richardson at 39 Chariot Road, Illogan Highway, Redruth or via

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Mebyon Kernow comment on recent spate of riots

In my column in today's Cornish Guardian, I comment on the disorder that recently broke out in a number of cities. The article was written four-five days ago and is as below:

We have all seen, on television and in the printed press, the truly shocking images of the recent rioting in English cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester.

I find it extremely difficult to comprehend why so many young people can resort to such mindless violence.

The destruction of property, the loss of so many businesses and homes, and the resultant death of a number of men, is a national tragedy. And it is unbelievable that many of the rioters simply saw the disorder as a materialistic opportunity to loot shops – to steal everything from TV sets to clothing – something that the Prime Minister rightly condemned as “criminality, pure and simple.”

The leaders of both the Coalition and the Opposition are also correct that the immediate priority for the UK Government must be to restore order to the streets, and to prevent further violence and rioting from erupting in the near-future.

The behaviour of the rioters cannot be excused in any way, and it is to be welcomed that those individuals arrested and convicted are being dealt with severely by the justice system.

This is an important part of the short-term response, but I find it disconcerting that high-ranking politicians in the Coalition have attempted to blame the Police for the way that they handled the unrest.

Now is also not the time for knee-jerk reactions, such as those of Wandsworth Council which has already started proceedings to evict one mother and her young daughter from a council house because her teenage son has been charged – but not yet convicted – of taking part in the riots.

It is my view that the Coalition Government needs to promote a wideranging and thoughtful debate about what is clearly a complicated situation, properly investigating what caused the riots, why the violence broke out and what should be done now.

I believe that the Government needs to be asking why so many, mostly young, people feel so disaffected and alienated from society that they can engage in such destructive behaviour without giving thought to the consequences.

Much of the violence was in areas with widespread poverty, and Cameron and others need to be asking to what degree inequality and a lack of opportunity have allowed such disaffection to fester.

And they need to be asking whether government cuts in funding to local councils, the Police and numerous voluntary and other groups - which is predicted to lead to the widespread closure of community and youth facilities - will make British Society even less equal and more fractured.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Free “Cornish Nation”

Mebyon Kernow has just published its latest edition of “Cornish Nation” magazine, which is sent to all MK members four times a year.

This edition covers a range of topics such as alternatives to the cuts of the Coalition, the SNP taking control of the Scottish Parliament, a tribute to former MK councillor Verity Gondal who died in July, and much, much more.

A free copy of “The Nation” is available on request from If you would like a copy, please specify whether you would like the magazine in either hard copy or as a pdf.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Bolitho sings

Some months ago, a new CD was released, which features twenty tracks in both Cornish and English, from the late great John Bolitho.

The CD, titled Bolitho Sings, is a compilation put together by Merv Davey and An Daras. It includes John's trademark Maggie May, Bro Goth Agan Tasow and An Rosen Wyn (The White Rose), as well as The Lower Lights, Calm is the Sea and Danny Boy.

I had been meaning to buy the CD for quite awhile. I finally picked it up last week and it is a real treat. I would recommend it to everyone – especially those people who knew John and heard him perform in the past.

Reviewing the CD in the Western Morning News, Simon Parker described John’s commitment to Cornwall as “beyond compare,” adding “mention John Bolitho to anyone who met him and they will invariably beam with pleasure at the memory of a friendly, generous and much-loved Bude man.” Quite right.

A brilliant singer, John performed the length and breadth of Cornwall, as well as further afield. He was also a leading member of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall for many years, representing his home area on North Cornwall District Council and contesting the North Cornwall seat in the 1997 General Election. He was also the Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorseth between 2000 and 2003, and involved with a wide range of cultural groups across Cornwall.

Bolitho Sings costs £11 (including postage and packing) and is available from Heather Bolitho at 4 Grenville Gate, Poughill, Bude. Cheques should be made payable to Heather Bolitho.

Why not treat yourself and buy the CD!

The views of planning consultants Tetlow King

The “Planning” magazine – the journal of the Royal Town Planning Institute – has reported on the Planning Policy Advisory Panel’s rejection of “proposals from officers to provide 54,000 new homes in the county (sic) over the next twenty years.”

It wrote: “Instead, it voted to propose a figure of 40,000 over the period – down from the 68,200 over 20 years proposed for the county (sic) in the draft regional spatial strategy for the South West."

As Chairman of the Panel I am quoted in the report, as is Jamie Sullivan who is described as “principal planner” for the consultancy Tetlow King.

He said: “Whatever target the Council sets will have to be justified by robust evidence and it seems peculiar that their target is at such variance with the former regional target.”

Peculiar? I think not!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Planning Policy Panel says no to 54,000 figure

At yesterday’s meeting of the Planning Policy Advisory Panel, councillors did not support the recommendation to set a housing target of 54,000 new properties between 2010 and 2030.

The figure that will be recommended to the Council’s ruling Cabinet for the next stage of consultation was 40,000.

As expected, a range of different views were expressed and the meeting lasted from 10.00 in the morning to 4.30 in the afternoon.

I argued that we had consulted the public and we should listen to the views of town and parish councils, voluntary and community and other groups. Most had shown support for lower or medium levels of growth (see previous blog).

I also argued that Cornwall had had growth rates as high as, or higher than, other parts of the United Kingdom and that this could not go on indefinitely.

I also challenged projections on the extent of new households being generated from within Cornwall by the trend towards smaller household sizes (people living longer, more single person households, etc).

At a previous briefing we were told that in 1991, the average household size was 2.46 persons and had gone down to 2.32 persons in 2001 and was 2.27 persons now.

It was suggested that the projected figure for 2030 would be 2.1 persons per household and that we would therefore need to provide 30,000 new homes to stand still (ie. zero net in-migration). I did my own calculations which came to a vastly different conclusion and latterly the Council revised the projection to 2.2 persons per household.

In terms of the main debate, some members said that they were “content” with the 54,000 figure, others argued for a lower figure.

A proposal to support 52,000 was moved and I then moved an amendment for 40,000, arguing that the priority was far-reaching policies to maximmise the delivery of proper local-needs housing - not high growth dominated by open market housing. A further amendment for 48,000 was moved and the original proposal withdrawn.

The vote was extremely close and the votes were split across parties. Six members supported the 40,000 figure (1 MK, 1 Conservative, 1 Lib Dem and 3 Independents) while five supported the 48,000 figure (3 Conservatives, 1 Lib Dem and 1 Independent).

Much work still has to be done on the Core Strategy document, the policies within it and how much housing is appropriate for the different areas of Cornwall. I will feedback more information in the near-future, in particular, whether Cabinet supports our recommendation.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

How many new properties for Cornwall by 2030? Report to follow.

Tomorrow, I will chair a meeting of the Planning Policy Advisory Panel which will consider how many new properties should be built in Cornwall over the next twenty years.

Months ago, the Council consulted on a range of options – 38,000 (described as low), 48,000 (medium) and 57,000 (high). It also invited individuals and groups to offer their own alternatives.

Most written responses from Parish Councils and groups plumped for the low to medium options. COSERG suggested a much lower figure. Developers meanwhile mostly went for the high option and a number of them suggested even higher growth figures.

In the public consultation events, 29% of people went for the low option, 42.5% went for medium and 28.5% for high.

The recommendation from officers is 54,000.

I had thought to write a comprehensive piece in advance of the meeting but have decided to instead produce a detailed report after the meeting. At the moment I am working on statistics for household formation and, in particular, growth in smaller household sizes, which I intend to challenge tomorrow.

I have heard the councillors on the Panel express a range of views about housing numbers and I am honestly unsure of how the meeting will go tomorrow and what recommendation it will come to.

But I do know one thing and that is I will have a lot to say.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Retew – once a village, now only a name

On Saturday, I had the privilege of opening an impressive new exhibition at the Wheal Martyn China Clay Country Park near St Austell.

The exhibition is titled “Retew – once a village, now only a name.” It explores the history of the former settlement of Retew near Fraddon, which was lost to the china clay industry in the 1960s when Remfry Pit was expanded.

The displays are a result of the collaborative work undertaken by the painter Chris Miller, the photographer Kirsten Cooke and the China Clay History Society. They combine historic images and documents, as well as more recent photographs of the surrounding area.

This all came about when Chris Miller returned to Cornwall after living in France for a number of years. She decided to revisit areas with family connections. This included Retew.

In recalling her thoughts, Chris has said: “Nothing had prepared me for the poignant moment of following a quiet tree-lined lane to Retew to find around the corner, a turf bank obscuring the gaping hole where Retew had sunk without trace.”

She became fascinated by the background history of this lost village and, with the help of her friend Kirsten and the China Clay History Society, started to piece together the story of Retew.

One fascinating part of the exhibition is the recorded memories of people who lived in the village up to the 1960s.

I do not remember Retew as such, but growing up in St Enoder Parish in the 1970s I do recall much of the area around where Retew once stood.

I remember going to the area on a regular basis with my parents to collect firewood, transporting it home in the back of our Ford Anglia estate.

I also remember exploring around derelict farm buildings, playing “Cowboys and Indians” in an area of pine trees, and loitering around the area of a badger sett, in the hope that we would get to see one of the animals.

Even these areas have now been lost to clay extraction, but my later childhood reminiscences are nothing compared to the memories of those people who lost their homes and community.

The story of Retew is one that needs to be told, and this exhibition does that admirably.

The exhibition runs from 31 July to 31 August. It is open daily from 10.00am to 5.00pm and it is free to enter. I would encourage everyone to visit Wheal Martyn and learn more about Retew.