Monday, 31 October 2011

Keep Cornwall Whole launch petition

The Keep Cornwall Whole campaign group has today launched a petition against the proposal to create a cross-Tamar Devonwall constituency.

The petition calls on MPs to (i) seek changes to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act to ensure that parliamentary constituencies respect Cornwall’s historic border and (ii) oppose all proposals for a Devonwall seat.

The campaign fully understands that the Boundary Commission cannot recommend seats with a variance of greater than 5% from the average constituency size. But has been widely reported that there is a growing anxiety amongst MPs about the final outcome of the boundary review and it has been suggested that many, who face losing their seats and livelihoods, might oppose the legislation.

Now is the time for us to put pressure on the Coalition and their MPs to oppose the changes which will need to be agreed by Parliament. Now is the time to fight back and to do all in our power to undermine the legislation.

Copies of the petition will soon be able to be downloaded from the website

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Cllr Derek Collins joins Mebyon Kernow

I am very pleased to be able to announce that Derek Collins, who serves on St Austell Town Council, has resigned from the Liberal Democrats and joined MK.

Derek says that he can no longer remain a member of a political party that he believes has lost its way. His statement issued today stated:

“I can no longer, in all conscience, remain a member of the Liberal Democrats.

“I campaigned long and hard to help elect a Lib Dem MP in St Austell and Newquay, telling voters that the only way to stop the Conservatives was to support Stephen Gilbert.

“The decision taken by MPs to back a Conservative Government and implement Tory policies was a bitter pill which I could not swallow. I, like many people, felt very let down. I did not campaign for a Tory Government and I am angry to see the Lib Dem MPs go back on their election pledges on everything from public spending to policing, the NHS, tuition fees and so much more.

“I have made numerous representations to the MP and senior Lib Dems in the local area. Promises were repeatedly made about fighting for the policies that were actually presented at the General Election – but nothing has changed.

“I have therefore tendered my resignation from the Lib Dems and I have joined Mebyon Kernow, which I believe is standing up for Cornwall and rightly opposing the excesses of the Coalition Government.”

I am delighted to be able to welcome Derek into MK. I have known him for a number of years and he is a passionate advocate of winning a better deal for Cornwall and his local area. I am absolutely delighted that he is now part of the MK team and I look forward to working closely with Derek for many years to come.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Loveday Jenkin is standing in the Wendron by-election

Loveday Jenkin is MK's candidate in the by-election to fill the vacancy on Cornwall Council (Wendron Division) caused by the sad death of hard-working Independent councillor Mike Clayton.

Loveday is an experienced councillor. She served on Kerrier District Council from 1995 until 2009, when it was abolished. She has also served on Crowan Parish Council for over 16 years.

I believe that Loveday has the experience to be a strong Cornwall Councillor for her local area, which includes Crowan, Praze-an-Beeble, Sithney and Wendron parishes, and I hope that we can all get behind her campaign and get her elected to County Hall.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Public toilets ... what now?

In my column in this week's Cornish Guardian, I look at Cornwall Council and its approach to providing public toilets and the outcome of a recent Scrutiny meeting at County Hall. It is as below:

In February 2010, the Conservative-led administration of Cornwall Council agreed its Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), which set out its overall budgets until 2013-2014. In December 2010, the Council set its detailed budget for 2011-2012.

On both occasions, I found the whole process extremely frustrating and was angered at how much information was not made available to councillors.

Taking the environment part of the budget as an example, I repeatedly sought more detailed financial breakdowns but was told these were not yet available.

Indeed, backbench councillors were told that Full Council should set the strategic direction of the authority and the headline budget figures, but leave the ruling Cabinet and senior officers to worry about the details and to “achieve the savings and decide upon the operational changes required to deliver them.”Many of those councillors who voted to agree the budget without understanding its likely implications now find themselves having to implement cuts that they do not support.

Last week at a Scrutiny Committee, councillors were in the invidious position of having to consider how they were going to deal with a massive reduction in funding for public toilets. Apparently, the MTFS reduces funding for the loos from £2.85 million in 2010-2011 to £1.49 million in 2012-2013 – something that all the councillors I spoke to had no recollection of ever voting for.

Cornwall Council is presently responsible for a total of 247 public conveniences, but a working group of the Committee had to come up with a recommendation to cease funding for 114 toilets in order to meet the reduced budget provision. The Council hopes local Parish Councils will be willing to take on these toilets and keep them open at a reduced cost. It will certainly be interesting to see what their responses are!

Personally, I think Cornwall Council have got it wrong. I believe it needs to revisit how it agreed the savings expected from the budget for public conveniences, as well as a range of other areas, which are simply unachievable without significant impacts on local communities.

One officer at the recent meeting even admitted that they did not fully understand the costs of operating toilets until after the budget envelope for the service had been set! How’s that for planning ahead!

Councillors at the meeting did however support my call for the Medium Term Financial Strategy to be reviewed in terms of the monies available for public toilets. Watch this space to see if it actually happens.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

Today, I responded to the consultation on the Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). To give a flavour of the representation, I have listed a few extracts below:

The “presumption in favour of development”

The document contains a “presumption in favour of development.” It also 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.”

We share the concerns of the National Trust who believe that the new planning rules could mean “unchecked and damaging development … on a scale not seen since the 1930s” and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England who believe the reforms “will place the countryside under increasing threat and leave local communities and planning authorities largely powerless in the face of developer pressure.”

We oppose the “presumption in favour of development” and would welcome a more balanced approach to the assessment of planning applications, that appropriately weighs up both the merits and disadvantages of individual schemes.

A plan-led system?

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall is a strong supporter of a plan-led system in planning. But here in Cornwall, the undemocratic imposition of a single unitary authority (in place of seven former councils) has meant that the development of a Local Development Framework for Cornwall has suffered considerable delay.

If the “default answer to development proposals is yes … where local planning documents are silent, indeterminate or dated” that therefore puts Cornwall and its communities at a great disadvantage and many more sub-standard developments may be allowed as a consequence.

Significantly increasing the supply of housing

The document seeks to “significantly increase” the present level of house building. It does not however seek to understand the different needs of the different parts of the United Kingdom in coming forward with this and its associated policies.

In Cornwall we have experienced faster population growth than almost all other parts of the United Kingdom, accompanied by uncontrolled house building. Cornwall’s population was less than 350,000 in the early 1960s before large-scale in-migration commenced. By 1991 the population had ballooned to 468,500. It is now 535,000 people.

In 1991, there were approximately 190,000 occupied dwellings in Cornwall. Over 45,000 more properties have been built in the last 20 years – the vast majority of which was unrestricted market housing – many of which became buy-to-let investment properties or second homes. Such level of development is unsustainable and cannot be continued blindly into the future.

We therefore oppose “significantly increasing the supply of housing” in a Cornish context and call on the Government to allow areas like Cornwall more freedom to slow the level of house construction to give our communities a breathing space, and to allow local councils to focus on the delivery of proper local needs housing.

Local-needs housing

At the same time, local people are finding it increasingly difficult to find housing that is affordable. This Framework appears to do nothing to address this imbalance. Indeed, we believe it is the case that the Government is doing too little to deliver affordable housing for local-need. The introduction of an “affordable rent” model (at 80% of inflated private sector rents) in place of social rent, cuts in investment, etc, is making the delivery of local-needs affordable housing ever more difficult.

Neighbourhood Plans

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

Protection of the countryside

Mebyon Kernow is particularly concerned that the proposed NPPF waters down the commitment to “protect the countryside for its own sake” and its own intrinsic value. This relates to both protected landscapes and those areas which have no statutory protection as such.
Greater protection must be afforded to land which is worthy of protection. This includes agricultural land, which will form the basis of our ability to produce food in the future, when food scarcity may become an issue.

Second homes

The NPPF is silent on the issue of second homes, which is a key problem in Cornwall, and a factor that excludes local people from the housing market and leaves many coastal villages little more than havens for holiday makers. It is time that legislation was introduced that allowed Councils to stop and then reduce the spread of second homes.

A lack of clarity - a lawyers’ charter?

Throughout the NPPF there is great uncertainty. It refers to Local Plans, but the document does not define what it means by this. Does this include Local Development Frameworks, such as the one being produced in Cornwall? Or is it a Local Plan like the old detailed district plans? Must work on LDFs be ceased and work on a new document commenced? Or is the Government simply using a term that is different from the one used by the previous Government?

Similarly, what is meant by the terms such as “sustainable development,” “rural,” “need” and “demand”, for example? And how can the terms “need” and “demand”, be used so interchangedly?

It is our view that this lack of clarity which makes the NPPF more a lawyers’ charter and a basis for litigation than a document that promotes a planning system that would be truly sustainable.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Cornwall Council comments on High Court ruling are shameful

My column in next week's Cornish Guardian will, unsurprisingly, focus on the result of the High Court challenge to the incinerator planning consent. For a sneak preview, see below:

The phone call to campaigners in St Dennis came at just after midday on Thursday. It was good news for the village – the High Court had just quashed the planning consent for a massive incinerator.

Mr Justice Collins had ordered Eric Pickles to reconsider the planning decision because the Secretary of State and his planning inspector had failed to properly consider environmental issues and the impact of emissions on nearby Special Areas of Conservation.

Cornwall Council were quick to describe the ruling as “extremely disappointing.” Their press release went into overdrive claiming that this could “mean a delay of up to six months” for the project and “cost the Council at least £6 million.”

One journalist even condemned Cornwall Council for being in “full emotional manipulation mode” as it made the claim that the “delay” was the “equivalent of providing 400,000 hours of care for vulnerable people living at home.”

I feel extremely angry that the Council keeps making such ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims, which can and are being challenged.

It is time that the Council acknowledged a few home truths. It needs to recognise that the former County Council mishandled the issue of the incinerator and that Cornwall Council is continuing to make a hash of it.

In 2006 the Liberal Democrat administration on Cornwall County Council voted to sign a waste contract with SITA which specified the construction of an incinerator. The site at St Dennis was even named in the contract, but the members who voted in favour did not bother to visit the area to consider whether it would be appropriate for such a development.

In 2009 the Planning Committee (including many who voted for the contract) voted by twenty votes to one to refuse the incinerator proposal.

Soon after, the leader of the new Conservative-led unitary authority Alec Robertson (who himself opposed the incinerator) pledged that the Council would robustly defend SITA’s appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. He sanctioned the expenditure of over £1 million to do just that.

I was privileged to help present local views to that Inquiry and I know that the Council’s planning officers and the legal team defended the appeal extremely well. But they had to cope with senior officers and the leadership of the two-faced Council doing all they could to undermine them.

The extent of this interference became publicly apparent when Alec Robertson wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to rule against his own Council and to allow the incinerator to be built.

I therefore find the Council’s ongoing criticism of the good folk of St Dennis for their bravery in bringing a High Court challenge to be shameful. How dare they scaremonger about costs. And how dare they try to blame others for their failure to develop a sustainable way to manage waste?

It is also important for people to realise that the issues raised in the legal challenge brought by objectors were exactly the same as those raised by Cornwall Council itself at the earlier Planning Inquiry!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Statement from High Court on incinerator ruling

I have just been forwarded the official press statement from UK Law News from the High Court on the incinerator ruling. It was as follows:

Objectors opposed to plans for a waste incinerator in the picturesque Cornish countryside today triumphed in their High Court challenge to the Government's grant of planning permission for the scheme.

The Cornwall Waste Forum St Dennis Branch persuaded High Court judge Mr Justice Collins to quash the Government's decision to grant planning permission for the "energy from waste plant" on land at St Dennis, which they say threatens two nearby "Special Areas of Conservation" (SACs) designated by the EU. The judge ordered the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to reconsider the decision.

However, this may not be the end of the battle. He did grant the Secretary of State permission to challenge his decision at the Court of Appeal.

The judge ruled that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, and his planning inspector had failed to meet a "legitimate expectation" on the part of the objectors that they would consider whether an "Appropriate Assessment" was necessary under the Habitats Regulations and EU Habitats Directive to consider the potential impacts of noise, dust and other emissions from the incinerator on the surrounding area.

He backed the group's claim that the inspector, whose decision was followed by the Secretary of State, was wrong to leave the question of an Appropriate Assessment to the Environment Agency, which had already announced its stance that the incinerator would have no significant environmental effects.

He found that the inspector failed to deal with the objectors' challenge to the EA's stance, which they claim is "legally flawed" and insufficient to meet the requirements of the Directive.

Quashing the planning permission in a lengthy judgment today, the judge said that the "sensible way forward" now might be for the Secretary of State to carry out an Appropriate Assessment "as speedily as possible".

He said that this might lead to him agreeing with the EA, and planning permission being properly granted. However, he said that if any significant effects on the environment are identified, that will in effect mean that the development cannot take place.

He said: "Clearly what was envisaged was that the inspector would consider and give his views on not only whether an Appropriate Assessment was needed but, if possible, what the Appropriate Assessment should decide.

"That the objectors were led to believe that the inspector would deal with the issue, there can be no doubt. That was on the basis that the Secretary of State was the Competent Authority and the appropriate authority to deal with the issue.

"The objectors were never disabused of that belief by anything said by the inspector in the course of the inquiry process.

"It seems to me that the real point is that the expectation was that the inspector would consider and reach a view on the need for an Appropriate Assessment."

He added that the inspector and the Secretary of State had made "no decision" on the challenge to the EA's conclusions put forward by the objectors.

He continued: "There was evidence put before the inspector that the EA had got it wrong. But he did not deal with or reach any decisions on the evidence which had been produced to challenge the EA's view.

"He was wrong not to have dealt with the evidence because the parties had been led to believe that he would and he had not at any stage disabused them of that expectation."

Speaking afterwards, Charmian Larke, a representative of the group, said: "We are very pleased and happy. We all feel exhausted but ready for the next phase of the battle, whatever it might be.

"Today we have made big progress towards more sustainable waste management in Cornwall."

The judge ordered the Secretary of State to pay the Forum's legal costs, to be assessed later.

HIgh Court upholds challenge on incinerator decision

Campaigners from St Dennis and the Mid Cornwall area have won their legal challenge against the construction of a massive incinerator in the China Clay Area. I do not know the details of the ruling as yet but I understand that the Secretary of State has also been granted leave to appeal.

Cornwall Council has expressed its disappointment at the news and started to wax lyrical on the financial implications.

I will post again when I know more.

Update on housing numbers

At yesterday’s meeting of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet, portfolio-holders voted to agree a housing target of 48,000 new properties for 2010-2030.

An amendment to follow the advice of the Planning Policy Panel to set a target of 40,000 was defeated by five votes to three (see previous blog posts from 5th August and 8th October).

This figure will go out to consultation in a few weeks. The 48,000 target has been divided up as follows between the 19 Network Areas and allocation for the eco-town proposal that is being pushed by “all and sundry” – both inside and outside of the Council.

The Network Area targets are as follows:

Bodmin - 1,250
Bude - 1,250
Camborne/Pool/Redruth - 7,000
Camelford - 800
Caradon - 800
China Clay Area - 800
Cornwall Gateway - 1,450
Falmouth & Penryn - 4,000
Hayle & St Ives - 2,900
Helston & Lizard Helston - 2,000
Launceston - 1,900
Liskeard & Looe - 1,950
Newquay & St Columb - 3,300
St Agnes & Perranporth - 1,100
St Austell - 1750
St Blazey, Fowey & Lostwithiel - 800
Truro & Roseland - 5,200
Wadebridge & Padstow - 1,500
West Penwith - 3,250
Eco-town developments in St Austell, St Blazey and China Clay Area - 5,000

The consultation will also ask whether the Bodmin and Saltash areas would wish to take more housing that that noted above.

The consultation will however be about more than just the housing targets and it will present a broad “policy intent” for the planning policies that the Council will adopt next year.

Cornish people plant "Other" flags to mark their national identity

As part of its “Disunited Kingdom” series of features, The Guardian yesterday posted results of an on-line survey into how people view their national identities.

Individuals were invited to "plant a flag" where they lived, with their choice of nationality being British, Scottish, English, Welsh Northern Irish, Irish or Other.

More than 16,500 people took part and overwhelmingly chose to identify themselves with their home nation, rather than their Britishness. Figures from yesterday show that 6,594 said they were British, 2,874 said they were Scottish, 2,386 chose English, 1,355 Welsh, 895 Irish, with 129 choosing Northern Irish.

The report also added: “Another 1,309 people chose other, particularly in Cornwall, where there is a home rule and Cornish language movement principally led by the pro-devolution group Mebyon Kernow, which has 22 local councillors across the county (sic). The eastern edge of the "other" dots in the south-west of England (sic) closely follows the line of the Tamar river, the historic boundary between Cornwall and the rest of England (sic).”

It is great to see Cornish people expressing their identity and the above image shows that beautifully. The blue flags represent Other – or in the majority of cases in Cornwall – Cornish!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

How can an MP support “Cornish Heritage” but vote for Devonwall?

George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, has called on the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to set up a new "Cornish Heritage" body to take over the functions of English Heritage (EH) in Cornwall.

The Conservative MP has criticised EH for "letting Cornwall down for years" by not promoting its industrial history to boost tourism. He has also been involved in a spat with the organisation over its opposition to developments on Hayle's harbour, because of its World Heritage Status.

In a soundbite that could have been created for an MK member, he said:

"Towns like Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, which make up the heart of the Cornwall's mining heritage, are not even mentioned on the English Heritage website. Instead, all you get are pretty pictures of castles in the home counties."

I welcome Mr Eustice’s call for Cornish Heritage. But he is the same Mr George Eustice MP who voted for a Devonwall parliamentary constituency earlier this year.

Mr Eustice – you cannot have it both ways. You either support Cornwall, its heritage and its territoriality – or you don’t! Will you now pledge to oppose Government plans for a cross-Tamar constituency?

David (St Dennis) takes on Goliath (SITA / Cornwall Council) in the High Court

Campaigners from St Dennis and the wider Mid Cornwall area are in London today for the start of a two-day High Court hearing (Section 288 challenge) to overturn the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission for an incinerator with an unsustainable, annual throughput of 240,000 tonnes of waste at St Dennis.

It has been branded a "David versus Goliath" struggle and local people should be commended for the determined way in which they have raised funds to make the challenge.

I think that my good friend Pat Blanchard, the chairman of the St Dennis Incinerator Group, has summed it up well. She said: "The support of the community and work by so many individuals just illustrates how strongly people feel. We are not rich, with up-country barristers or second home owners, just ordinary people trying to do what we can to prevent a travesty."

I would like to wish the campaigners all the best. Through them, there may yet be time for Cornwall Council to develop a sustainable approach to waste management.

For information, the Western Morning News today reported that the incinerator would “burn 240,000 tons of non-recyclable household waste each year.” This is so, so untrue! The vast majority of the waste that would go to the plant could be recycled or composted.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Cabinet set to over-rule Planning Policy Advisory Panel on housing numbers

Yesterday, I chaired the latest meeting of the Planning Policy Advisory Panel at County Hall which considered the content of the consultation draft on Cornwall Council’s Core Strategy.

It was a wide-ranging meeting and our comments will be reported to a meeting of the Council’s ruling Cabinet nest week, which is expected to agree the document for consultation. It is fair to say we are seeking a large number of changes.

But one area where the views of the Panel have already not been accepted by the Cabinet member is the target for housing numbers.

The report to our meeting stated the following:

“Notably, members [of the Panel] agreed by 6 : 5 vote to recommend to the Portfolio Holder a 40,000 target for dwellings over the next 20 year as a basis for consultation on the Preferred Approach. Following discussion, the Portfolio Holder has asked officers to develop an initial target of 48,000 for consultation. This reflects the medium level of growth consulted on at the options stage and that had most support at the public consultation events and is felt to be
better able to deliver strategic priorities of affordable housing and economic regeneration. On this basis the report to Cabinet will reflect this recommendation. It will, of course also refer the recommendations of PPAP for a lower figure of 40,000.”

I will nonetheless make the case for the Panel’s recommendation at next week’s meeting.

For the record, the previous public consultation on housing numbers were as follows:

Exhibition responses
Low (38,000) - 29%
Medium (48,000) - 42.5%
High (57,000) - 28.5%

Written responses
Low (38,000) - 47%
Medium (48,000) - 17%
High (57,000) - 36%

News on Cornwall Council budget for 2012-2013

The Conservative and Independent administration at Cornwall Council has just published its draft budget for 2012-2013, which will be presented to a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday 12th October.

Key recommendations in the provisional budget, according to a press release, include.

An additional £14.4 million for Adult Care and Support.
£700,000 to fund an Educational Maintenance Allowance scheme
for students in Cornwall to “support those most affected by the withdrawal of the Government’s national scheme earlier this year …”
Capital funding to support projects such as the detrunking of roads controlled by the Highways Agency, the dualling of the A30 at Temple and improvements to A38 accident blackspots; the development of new renewable energy facilities; the Port of Falmouth Masterplan; a new Archive and Records Office; and a housing strategy to address local housing shortages.
£365,000 to help secure the future of key voluntary sector organisations such as the Cornwall Rural Community Council and the Cornwall Centre for Volunteers.
Pooling the budgets of members of the Cornwall Safety Partnership to support a range of services including domestic violence and sexual abuse services.

At this point, I have no comment to make on the budget. I have yet to receive the paperwork and study it in depth. Like most members, my initial understanding of what is in the budget has come from a press statement and reports on local radio.

Indeed, it is indicative of the failings of the Cabinet system that the official press release contained messages of support for various budget proposals from individuals from outside the Council – such as the Principal of Cornwall College Dave Linnell, Mark Osterfield of Tate St Ives, and even Grand Bard Mick Paynter – and this was all before the majority of the councillors had even seen the budget!

Elected members will be able to scrutinise the provisional budget during two special Budget Scrutiny Days on Thursday 3th November and Friday 4th November, before it is brought before the full Council for a decision on 29th November.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Dennis Harris - thanks for 40 years as a parish councillor

The members of St Enoder Parish Council have presented a crystal decanter to Dennis Harris, who recently retired from the Council.

A wonderfully kind man, he has given more than 40 years of service to his local community as a parish councillor over two periods.

​Dennis was also a founding member of Restormel Borough Council in 1973, served on the authority for 26 years, and remembers that his proudest proudest moment was his year as the mayor of Restormel in the 1988-89 year. When the Council was abolished, he was also made an Alderman of the Borough.

He was a Cornwall County Councillor for sixteen years and has been involved with numerous local groups.

I fully agree with Parish Council Chairman Cllr Andrew Waters who presented him with the award at a recent meeting. Andrew said: "I can't speak too highly enough of him. The members all thought we should buy him a gift to say thank you for all his hard work. He has done a tremendous amount for this parish over the last four decades."