Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Cornwall Council budget

Cornwall Council yesterday approved a four-year budget plan, which will see cuts of £196 million and the loss of hundreds of jobs. Council tax will rise by 1.97% in 2014/2015, a figure which is just below the 2% threshold which would have led to a referendum on the issue.

The four MK councillors did not support the budget.

We were among thirteen councillors who supported an amendment to seek a council tax increase of 6%, which would have been placed in front of Cornish voters in a referendum. It was our view that the additional £9 million would have partially offset some of the damaging cuts being forced on Cornwall, for example, in adult social care, childrens services and one-stop-shops/libraries.

We also supported an amendment to safeguard youth provision which was overwhelmingly defeated.

The final budget was passed with 69 voters in favour with 21 votes against. There were a total of 19 abstentions.

During the wider debate around the budget, there was much comment about the disproportionate levels of cuts being imposed on local government by the Coalition government, but among many of the Coalition councillors themselves, there was almost a denial that the cuts had anything to do with their parties!!!

My latest monthly report to St Enoder Parish Council

I presented my latest monthly report to last night’s meeting of St Enoder Parish Council. It covered the period from 24th October to 23rd November, and was as follows:

1.         Council meetings

I have attended a range of formal meetings over the last month. These included: Cabinet; Environment, Heritage and Planning Portfolio Advisory Committee (plus an associated informal PAC and two pre-agenda sessions); Constitution and Governance Committee, and a briefing on Cornwall Council’s budget situation.

2.         Council meetings

I have also attended a meeting of the Leader / Community-led Local Development working group, which I chair. This working group is devising the framework for the Local Action Groups (LAGs) for the new European funding programme. I also attended a meeting of the South and East Cornwall LAG, which covers an area stretching from the China Clay parishes in the west to the Tamar, and to which I have been appointed as a member.

Also attended was an Executive meeting of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Rural Partnership, and the project team for the St Austell Bay Economic Forum, which seeks the promote economic growth in St Austell and surrounding areas (including Clay Country).

I also supported an event at New County Hall, which was organised by the university at Penryn and sought to engage local people with decision-making in Cornwall. It was advertised as a “Citizens’ Take-over of County Hall.”

Locally, I have met with both the Indian Queens Under-5s and the Wesley Under-5s to discuss their plans for the future and to explore how I might be able to help.

3.         Penare Pig Farm, Higher Fraddon and associated AD plant

The last month has been dominated by the development of the AD plant at Higher Fraddon, and the re-development of the pig farm.

I organised a public meeting, which took place on 30th October at Kingsley Village. Cllr Hopkins chaired the meeting in his role as the chairman of the Parish Council. Present at the meeting were: Head and Assistant Head of Planning at Cornwall Council Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle, Graeme Lochhead and John Deane (Greener for Life) from the biogas development, Russell Dodge (Business Location Services) and Dan Johns on behalf of the pig farm. There were over 120 local residents at the meeting and there was considerable anger at the failure of those present to address the concerns of local people.   

Regular contact with local residents has been maintained through the Higher Fraddon Residents Action Group, which has included meetings on 30th October, 10th November and 13th November. Stephen Gilbert MP also attended the meeting on 10th November.

I also met with Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle on a number of occasions, who organised a meeting with Graeme Lochhead and David Manley from Greener for Life – also on 10th November. I had previously met with Graeme Lochhead on 31st October, immediately after the public meeting, and I have spoken to representatives of Greener for Life and the pig farm on numerous occasions over the telephone.

A number of Council officers have visited the site, including staff from the enforcement team and highways.

The key news to report is that the three tanks constructed by Greener for Life are not in compliance with the agreed plans, and the bund has also been constructed slightly out of position. Cornwall Council has therefore taken the view that the plant does not have a valid planning consent.

Greener for Life submitted a non-material amendment (NMA) earlier in the year, which stated that the tanks would be smaller than originally planned. For example, one of the original consented tanks would have been 9.13m high, the NMA stated that it would actually only be 6.0m high, but I understand that the height of the finished tanks is about 10m.

This was reported to Greener for Life prior to the meeting with Cornwall Council on 10th November. My notes from the meeting were as follows:

All in all, I found the meeting to be fractious.

Vehicle movements

The meeting commenced with a discussion about recent movements of large lorries. I complained that the number of such lorries that had been bringing in material to “seed” one of the tanks, since Thursday 6th November. I pointed out that this was not in compliance with either the construction management plan (for the construction period) or the traffic restrictions on the operational phase.

The response from Greener for Life was that this was a “commissioning” phase, which fell between the construction and operational phases. They acknowledged that they had not supplied information to the Council about the traffic movements at an early stage, but said they would restrict the movements to no more than 11 tankers each day (until Thursday this week).

Graeme Lochhead added that following the recent public meeting at Kingsley Village, Greener for Life had acknowledged the anger from many in the community and taken the decision to reduce the amount of material they would bring in to “seed” the plant. He stated that instead of bringing in 3,800 tonnes of material, they were only bringing in 1,800 tonnes of material and commissioning just one of the tanks.

It was noted that Greener for Life, at Phil Mason’s request, had asked the Highways Agency if they could temporarily close one lane on the A30 to make these deliveries. We were told that it would be possible, but would take another seven days to arrange. Greener for Life stated that they intended to keep the deliveries coming until Thursday 13th November, and the closure therefore could not be actioned speedily enough for their timetable!

When it was suggested that Greener for Life stop deliveries, they said they were unwilling to do this because it would compromise the commencement of the AD process. Graeme Lochhead explained that the material was being delivered at 25 degrees and would be heated up to 40 degrees. If it fell below a certain temperature, the bacteria would die; and if the heat was 40 degrees but the tanks were not being fed with material, the bacteria would eat each other.

They added that after Thursday, they intended to “ramp up” the commissioning with the addition of maize silage, but stated this was much less than originally planned.

Graeme Lochhead promised to provide me with detailed information on their traffic movements between now and Christmas.


Nigel Doyle reported back on the findings of the enforcement officers who visited the site on Tuesday 4th November. He stated that the embankment was closer to residents than on plans and the tanks were not in accordance with the second NMA which stated the height of the tanks would be reduced. It was reported that the diameter of the tanks were greater than stated and the height of the tanks were also much greater than agreed.

Given the present height of the tanks, the representatives from Greener for Life prompted a discussion about possibly increasing the height of the bund, with enhanced planting.

Nigel Doyle made it clear that, because the plant had not been built in accordance with plans, it therefore did not have planning permission. David Manley stated that he would need to seek legal advice on whether they could legally challenge the Council’s position, but was given short thrift by Nigel Doyle.

Phil Mason stated that there were two choices on the table for those involved: (i) enforcement or a (ii) retrospective planning application. He added that he felt the main impact and local concern was traffic, and requested to know how a new application would mitigate traffic impacts.

It seemed to me that Greener for Life did not appear too interested in reducing the number of large vehicles travelling to Higher Fraddon.

David Manley said that the initial NMA had already been agreed and that had allowed larger vehicles within the consented 51 two-way lorry movements. Nigel stated that the NMA was no longer valid, but the decision-makers could choose (or not) to give it weight when the new application was assessed.

I understood that Greener for Life were going to present their latest proposal for vehicle movements to the meeting. But no new information was presented and David Manley referred to paperwork (already circulated to the Action Group) which suggested 38 two-way movements of 40 or 44 tonne vehicles per week.

I made it clear to Greener for Life that I would oppose such an increase in large vehicles and I would push for the plant to have less feedstock, unless they could find another access (off the A30) or an alternative way to feed the plant.

Nigel Doyle asked Greener for Life to set out a timetable for a revised application and to guarantee that the materials would not be inaccurate or misleading. Whether there would need to a screening opinion was also discussed.

Graeme Lochhead stated that he would need to write a report for Greener for Life’s directors and investors about how best to proceed.

Access off the A30

Phil Mason asked if Greener for Life would agree to work with Cornwall Council to argue for a new access road off the A30. They confirmed that they would.

Phil Mason then asked if Greener for Life would sign a legal agreement to use “best endeavours” to push for a new access road off the A30. They stated they would need to discuss this with their directors and investors, as well as other interested parties (the pig farm and owners of the land for the biogas plant, the Dymond family).

It was also noted that Greener for Life had been granted a temporary lane closure on the A30 on 23rd/24th November for the delivery of some fitting, which it was agreed would be a precedent that could be argued in the future.

Pig slurry

Graeme Lochhead stated that the biogas plant has a commercial arrangement to take “3,000-5,000” tonnes of pig slurry from the farm, but would not necessarily take a greater amount if it was produced. The planners challenged this and I pointed that no-one had made account of such any removal of pig slurry from the pig farm in terms of vehicle movements.

Nigel Doyle expressed his concern at the lack of clarity as to how the pig farm and biogas plant would be working together and stated that the two expected planning applications would need to be consistent with each other.

Feed-in-tariff (FiT)

I asked about the FiT and the implication of gas not being produced by 18th December. Graeme Lochhead stated that the FiT was dropping from 15p to 12p, and if they had not produced gas by 18th December, could lose over £100,000 per annum.

I raised the point suggested by Stephen Gilbert MP that the feed-in-tariff would only be paid if all necessary consents were in place and that if the planning consent was no longer valid, would there be a problem? The Greener for Life representatives did not know the answer and stated they would look into this.

Graeme Lochhead also argued that the Council should not undermine the work of Greener for Life. He said that if the profitability of the plant was damaged, it would have a potential knock-on impact on their other projects in Cornwall because of a lack of “investor confidence.” I stated that I had no confidence in Greener for Life and how they had been operating.

Graeme Lochhead added that if Greener for Life failed to achieve the present FiT amount, they would need to approach the operation of the plant in a different way to maximise income. In particular, he stated that they would need to source materials that would generate more gas in place of the maize silage, for example, which would generate less gas.


Graeme Lochhead also reported that two sub-contactors, working for FLI Energy, had been disrespectful to local residents. He added that they had been sacked as a result.

Plant on opposite side of A30

I stated that local residents had heard about a possible plan from Greener for Life’s to build a tandem plant on the other side of the A30, but that there were great inconsistencies in what people had been told. David Manley stated that the landowner (Imerys) had concerns about mineral rights and the plan was on the “back burner.”

I asked for more details about the plan and it was confirmed that, if such a plant was built, a tunnel (for pipes) would be drilled under the A30 (which they said was quite easy to do and not too expensive). Material for the plant could then be fed through the pipe in a liquid form.

I suggested that they needed to do more work on this, as this could be an alternative way to reduce traffic movements, and asked for more information about exactly what might be done. It was suggested that Cornwall Council could take a pro-active approach to this issue.

Further information

Graeme Lochhead stated that he:

-  Would arrange a meeting with the closest local residents – within two weeks – to discuss the extent of screening around the site.
-  Wanted to organise a display about the biogas plant and how it would work, etc.
-  Planned to explore the best way to travel to the site by attempting the various routes to Higher Fraddon, using those vehicles that they would wish to use in the future.
-  Would provide me with detailed information about all the vehicles they wished to use, including dimensions.

The possibility of enforcement action

At the meeting itself, the planners made reference to the potential for stop notices or enforcement action that could be taken. Nigel Doyle made it clear to Greener for Life that the Council would need to consider all options.

I can also confirm that Nigel Doyle had discussions with officers from the enforcement section and I will report back when I have heard more from them.

I have been putting pressure on Council officials to be more robust in dealing with both the developers of the biogas plant and the owners of the pig farm, which has continued to redevelop the unit without any form of planning consent.

It is also the case that much of what I have been told in recent weeks is contradictory to other information which I have been supplied with.

Taking much of the above into account, I wrote to Phil Mason last week. The letter was as set out below:

First, may I thank you (and Nigel Doyle) for meeting with me on a number of occasions over the last two weeks to discuss the problems caused by the development of the biogas plant and the redevelopment of the pig farm at Penare Farm.

I fully appreciate that you are trying to liaise with the developers (Greener for Life) and representatives of the pig farm (Business Location Services) to ascertain the best way in which to address what is presently happening at Higher Fraddon.

However, it is ten days since we met with representatives of Greener for Life (Monday 10 November), when you informed them that they no longer had a valid planning consent because the application had not been constructed in accordance with agreed plans.

I find it unacceptable that we have heard little from Greener for Life over this period and that they have continued to construct / commission their plant. I know that, because their planning consent is longer valid, we cannot control certain aspects of their activities through the (now defunct) conditions. But the extent of some of the vehicle movements has been greater than those (i) stated by Greener for Life in their Construction Management Plan and (ii) specified in the conditions of the actual consent, which I consider unacceptable.

Likewise, the construction of the pig farm is continuing even though a planning application has not even been submitted.

The residents of Higher Fraddon have had to put up with a lot over the summer / early autumn, and they are still suffering significant ongoing harm in their daily lives. This has even caused the Police to have a presence in the area (see below).

It is also the case that Cornwall Council, the residents and I have all been seeking information from Greener for Life and pig farm about future plans and what is actually planned, etc, but the information we have received has been inconsistent and contradictory, and on occasions could even be described as misinformation.

I would wish to bring your attention to the following.

-  The conflict between the vehicle movements (lorries) and local population is actually escalating. I would refer you to correspondence sent to the Council yesterday (18th November) about what happened earlier in the day, and led to Police being called to visit Higher Fraddon.

-  The Police have confirmed to me that they do not have the capacity to be permanently on call to attempt to resolve issues near Penare Farm.

-  Greener for Life have been told that they do not have a valid planning consent for their site and have failed to make any meaningful changes to their operations (ie. reductions in traffic movements). It concerns me that they have yet to accept this and may be looking to challenge the Council’s position. It also concerns me that they have not come back to the Council with any proposals to address or mitigate the concerns of local people.

-  Greener for Life also seem to me to be unwilling to look at significant reductions in the amount of feedstock that it would wish to see delivered to the site in the future.

-  The pig farm is continuing to construct new buildings, etc, even though it has yet to submit a planning application, and the plan recently submitted to Cornwall Council for scoping does not reflect what residents had previously been told about the location of the attenuation tank.

-  There is endless misinformation being provided to Cornwall Council and local residents, which could/should impact on what may or not be consented in the future. Please see below examples:

All statements about the extent of present vehicle movements have been challenged by local residents. For example, one resident received the following email about traffic movement from Greener for Life on the morning of 18 November about movements later that day: “Regarding vehicles, we will have the two tractors in today, they will have come in and off loaded by 16:00. I have also been dealt a surprise and have been informed a load which was meant to be broken up into small loads will now be arriving on two larger vehicles.”

Various comments about the possible additional plant on the other side of the A30 have been extremely inconsistent. Some residents have been told it is “dead in the water” while others have been told that the option is still being explored.

At a meeting at Circuit House, Truro, on 17 October, I was told that the pig farm would produce 3,000 tonnes of pig slurry which would all go to the biogas plant. This was much less than the 7,800 tonnes recorded in the original planning application, with the explanation being that the new buildings would ensure there was less dilution with rain water. But more recently, Greener for Life informed me that they have an agreement in place to take 3,000-5,000 tonnes, but would not necessarily take all the slurry if more was produced. I have also spoken to Business Location Services for the pig farm who are saying the amount of pig slurry could still be s high as 7,000 tonnes.

-  With reference to the discrepancies shown above in terms of the pig slurry, it is clear that there is a lack of communication between Greener for Life and pig farm, which need to be addressed.

-  Local people are demanding to know why formal enforcement action is not being undertaken, and I have to say that I share the concerns of my residents.

-  I am extremely disappointed by the lack of meaningful dialogue from both Greener for Life and the owner of the pig farm, and request that you look to undertake enforcement action as a matter of urgency.

I have also twice complained to Greener for Life for their failure to keep me, as divisional member, and St Enoder Parish Council informed about changes to their vehicle movements, etc.

4.         St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan

I have been liaising with the Cornwall Rural Community Council, who have been inputting the data from the returned questionnaires for the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan.

A total of 402 questionnaires were returned and I have been told that the draft report on the feedback should be available this week. I have also requested a further breakdown for the component parts of St Enoder Parish, namely (i) Fraddon, (ii) Indian Queens / St Columb Road and (iii) Summercourt.

Meetings of the working group will be convened for December to plan the next stage of the work programme.

5.         Cornwall Local Plan

At the 14th November meeting of the Environment, Heritage and Planning Portfolio Advisory Committee (which I chair), the final draft of the Cornwall Local Plan was considered. It will be presented to a special meeting of Full Council on 16th December and agreement sought to submit the document to the Secretary of State, prior to examination by an Inspector.

It has taken a significant amount of time and there are many elements of the Local Plan which I did not support (for example, the total number of houses for the 2010-2030 period and the eco-town), but lost the relevant arguments some months, or even years ago. Likewise, many aspects of the process has been dictated from central government, leaving little room for manoeuvre.

Earlier in the year, I wrote to central government on behalf of a cross-party group of councillors, seeking a meeting with the Planning Minister to express a range of concerns about the process to produce a local plan. This was granted but the meeting was only attended by the Cabinet Member for the Environment, Heritage and Planning. The attendance of myself and other councillors was vetoed by the Leader of the Council.

6.         Unauthorised development on land adjacent to the Kelliers

At the last two meetings, I reported how land immediately to the east of the Kelliers was being developed without planning permission and that the landowner had put three caravans into the site, and that I had been in regular contact with the Council’s enforcement officer.

I can confirm that a total of six caravans have been moved onto the site and a number of them are being lived in. I understand from one of the enforcement officers that the occupants of the caravans are migrant labourers.

I have repeatedly challenged the Council to take enforcement action, but this has not happened because the owner of the land has stated that he is in the process of putting in a planning application.

7.         Budget cuts

The unitary authority will be holding its Full Council meeting on 25th November, when cuts totalling £196 million put forward by the ruling Liberal Democrat and Independent Cabinet will be considered.

The situation is grim and many of the cuts are extremely unpalatable. The figure of £196 million would be spread over four years and is based on assumptions about the ongoing level of central government cuts. The impact of such cuts on its shrunken financial base will be to further undermine the ability of Cornwall Council to provide basic services that local people should have a right to expect.

I will report back at tonight’s meeting.

8.         Mobile library

I have previously reported that in the near future, Cornwall Council’s mobile library service will be restricted to a single library van that will visit locations once a month.

The present list of potential stops include Indian Queens, Pedna Carne and Summercourt. I have also requested that there is an additional stop at Fraddon and will report back when I have more information.

9.         Property Level Protection schemes

As noted in previous monthly reports, eight properties in St Enoder Parish, which were flooded during the last two winters, are benefiting from the Property Level Protection scheme. The works have been completed at four of the properties. However, there have been delays at some of the remaining homes and I am actively chasing the contractors to seek assurances that the works will be completed soon.

10.       Works on the local road network

I am continuing to liaise with Cornwall Council in relation to improvement works on local roads. A number of further problems have been brought to my attention (eg. need for patching in Harvenna Close, Fraddon) and I will report back more fully in my next monthly report.

11.       Inquiries

Throughout the last month, I have also helped numerous people and local organisations with advice and guidance on a wide range of issues. These included problems relating to traffic, housing, drainage and vegetation. 

Even It Up

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian addressed global inequality. It is as follows:

The respected charity OXFAM has launched a campaign titled “Even It Up,” which seeks to pressure governments to do more to tackle inequality.

I believe it is a very important campaign of great relevance in the 21st century, both for the United Kingdom and wider World.

Here in the UK, the austerity measures of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition are certainly hitting the less-well-off much more than the wealthy.

One recent study shows that in 2000, the richest 10% controlled 51.5% of Britain’s wealth, but this has now risen to 54.1%.

One broadsheet newspaper summarised the report as follows: “Wealth inequality has risen four times faster in the seven years after the crash compared with the seven years before. The rich in the UK are becoming richer faster than ever. Wealth inequality rose under Labour; it rose faster under the Coalition.”

OXFAM itself states that “economic inequality has reached extreme levels,” while many of its statistics are truly shocking.

In 2013, “seven out of ten people lived in countries where the gap between the rich and poor is worse than thirty years ago.”

In 2014, the “richest 85 people on the planet owned as much as the poorest half of humanity,” and these 85 individuals, last year, “saw their wealth increase by half a million dollars every minute.”

Since the financial crisis, “the number of billionaires has more than doubled and in that same period at least a million mothers died in childbirth.”

There are “sixteen billionaires in sub-Saharan Africa, alongside the 358 million people living in extreme poverty.”

OXFAM want the “Even It Up” campaign to be the “start of something special.”  The organisation states that it knows “we can't solve the inequality crisis overnight,” but has pledged that it will take on “governments and big business to make sure they deliver the real change needed to reverse the trend of rising inequality.”

Specific proposals include sorting out the tax system so the richest and huge corporations “pay their fair share,” spending more on “public health and education to give the poor a fighting chance,” and ensuring “fair wages for everyone.”

It is my hope that the British Government, and other governments around the globe, actually listen and put fairness at the heart of their future policies.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Extracts from my Conference speech

For those people who were unable to attend the recent MK Conference, I focused quite strongly on the need for democratic reform and the devolution of greater powers to Cornwall. The relevant extracts from my speech are as follows:

Westminster politics

Confidence in Westminster politics is at an all-time low.

And is it any wonder?

The House of Commons and the House of Lords are still dominated by the same old establishment parties.

And their placemen control all manner of unelected and accountable quangos that litter the very core of the civic life of Britain.

A political elite – career politicians – they are far removed from the reality of what happens in our lives. They put the needs of the powerful, the banks and big business ahead of ordinary people like you and I.

In their cynical politics, they have little idea about the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people, who are working hard to get by, battling to make ends meet, sometimes juggling multiple jobs to simply pay the bills.

The present London-centred political system – with its top-down politics – is well and truly broken. It is not working. And more and more people are coming to that obvious conclusion.

St Piran’s Oratory and National Minority status

The uncovering of the historic chapel of our national saint is truly symbolic – and it is fitting that it is also happening in the very same year that central government bowed to years of pressure to recognise the Cornish as a national minority through the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection for National Minorities.

Doesn’t that last statement sound just wonderful.

It is indeed wonderful that all the Celtic peoples of the United Kingdom– the Cornish, the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh – will be afforded equal protection through the Framework Convention.

Hundreds and hundreds of people – from all aspects of Cornish life – have played their part in this campaign. I see many of you here today.

And make no mistake – this formal recognition of the Cornish is a landmark decision of momentous political significance and it could – and should – help shape the very future of our nation.

Government departments and public bodies will now be required to take the specific needs of Cornwall into account when formulating policy and making decisions.

And we have to find a way to ensure that the cultural recognition embodied in minority status is followed by a wider acceptance of our right to greater control over our political, civic, and economic lives through the creation of a legislative National Assembly of Cornwall.


We certainly owe a great debt to the people of Scotland for the manner in which they have debated the future governance of their country over the last two years.

And how the process has energised voters and shown that “politics as usual” is no longer acceptable.

Some months ago, Colin Fox from the Scottish Socialist Party wrote:

"No country in the world is more engaged in the democratic debate over self-determination than Scotland today. The referendum has energised people to a remarkable extent with debates on the 'democratic deficit' at the heart of Scottish politics now taking place in households, schools, workplaces, village halls and community centres from one end of the country to the other.”

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, rightly described the whole process as a “triumph for democracy,” while even the Better Together campaign acknowledged that there was a “cry for change,” which was likely to be “echoed in every part of the UK.

Alex Salmond is also right that the “real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster … but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people” who he predicted “will refuse to go back into the political shadows.”

Friends, it is up to us to ensure that the echo from Cornwall reverberates across the length and breadth of the whole United Kingdom, and we must – with confidence – put our case for Cornwall into the political spotlight, and build the momentum to bring home significant political and economic powers to our local communities.

Four nations or five nations?

Many Westminster politicians are now talking about devolution or new democratic settlements for the “four nations” of the United Kingdom.

David Cameron pledged “a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland, and … to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”

Kirsty Williams of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has talked about "four distinct nations” with their “own ambitions, own needs and own outlooks." Nations, which she said, all needed a “place at the table.”

Gordon Brown has spoken of the specific rights and needs of the “minority nations” of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He has also expressed his concern at the “disregard” shown to the “smaller nations” of the UK by Westminster Governments.

That is all a bit fine from the man who was Chancellor, when we presented 50,000 declarations demanding a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street in 2001.

And whose Government dismissed the declarations and refused to consider our calls for greater powers for Cornwall.

The truth is that the Westminster parties have a blind spot when it comes to the historic Celtic nation of Cornwall.

To them - when it comes to democratic reforms – we are the invisible nation that cannot be mentioned.

Well – I have a message for the establishment in London.

We will not be silent. We will not meekly stand in the political shadows. We will make the case for greater Cornish self government and we will be heard.

Westminster politics in Cornwall

Now, I am not surprised at the noises coming out of the London HQs of the Westminster parties.

But what I find most unforgivable is the attitude of their local representatives here in Cornwall.

The local Conservative Party has set out its opposition to a Cornish Assembly – with their normal disregard for the facts.

Tory MPs have been busy scaremongering away.

And their arguments have been heroically inconsistent.

Sarah Newton MP described a Cornish Assembly as a “tokenistic institution …” But she has gone on to argue that the devolution of more powers to Cornwall, as a constituent part of the UK, would lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.

And yet, David Cameron says that more powers to Scotland will actually strengthen the UK!

Candy Atherton meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the Cornwall Labour Party, said that a Cornish Assembly would be just “another layer of bureaucrats.”

What a shameful statement. And how galling for all those Labour MSPs and AMs serving in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – their national legislatures – to be dismissed as “bureaucrats.”

And then there are the Liberal Democrats. Well …

One minute, they are claiming that they are leading the campaign for a Cornish Assembly – demanding “real devolution … like Wales.”

The next moment, they are clearly only seeking a few additional powers for local government.

Liberal Democrat MPs who previously argued for a powerful Cornish Assembly and warned the previous Labour Government that it would not “get away” with “fobbing us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government” … are saying and doing the opposite now that they are in Government.

I am also particularly disappointed at the lack of ambition being shown by the leadership of the unitary authority. There is flowery language aplenty, but instead of showing real ambition for Cornwall, they are timidly seeking greater “freedoms and flexibilities” for the unitary authority.

Those of us who are serious about greater Cornish self-government must reiterate time and time again that our nation must be considered on a par with Wales and Scotland.

It is not about local government reform but delivering a new democratic settlement that matches those which have been won east of Offa’s Dyke and to the north of the Solway Firth.

Monday, 10 November 2014

One and all invited to MK Conference: Sunday 16th November

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall will be holding its 2014 Conference on Sunday 16th November at New County Hall in Truro.

I would like to extend an invitation to members of the public to attend the afternoon session, which will start at 2.00. Anyone interested in finding out more about MK would be extremely welcome, and we would be delighted to see you there and to hear your viewpoints.”

The morning session will consist of a series of debates proposed by members of the party, as well as the Annual General Meeting.

The afternoon session will include a keynote speech from myself as Party Leader, as well as two roundtable discussions with MK's parliametary candidates. The subjects for the two discussions will be (i) the implications of the recent Scottish referendum vote and the campaign for a Cornish Assembly and (ii) MK’s campaign priorities for the 2015 General Election.

I hope to see you there.

Remembrance Day commemorations

My article in this week's Cornish Guardian will be as follows:

It is my strong belief that everyone needs to fully understand the horror of war, and to know more about the tragic loss of millions of lives in the two World Wars and other subsequent conflicts.

I believe that we should welcome the wide-ranging array of exhibitions, events and television/radio programmes that have commemorated the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.

And, as well as marking the bravery and sacrifice of those who served, there has also been a considerable exploration of the wider issues about the enormity of the conflict.

Like many others, I was particularly impressed by the display at the Tower of London, where 888,246 ceramic poppies were installed as an artwork.

Each poppy represented a British or Commonwealth death during the Great War and it was an important and truly poignant display.

I nonetheless feel that many people – myself included – do not have the capacity to comprehend the loss of 888,246 men and women between 1914 and 1918.

And I think we equally struggle to comprehend the magnitude of the overall losses of the First World War, in which ten million service personnel and some six million civilians died. Or indeed, the casualties in the Second World War, when over 50 million individuals lost their lives – the vast majority of them civilians.

The extent of suffering is truly terrifying, but each loss was also intensely personal.

Thousands of people attended recent Remembrance Day commemorations across Cornwall, and I was pleased to lay a wreath at my local war memorial in St Enoder Churchtown.

At this memorial, just like others across the whole of the country, the names that were read out were members of those communities - sons, husbands, brothers, workmates and friends – who left behind children, wives, parents and siblings.

And whether they focus on the big picture or the individual experience, it is essential that politicians and opinion formers, present and future, learn from past wars and do all in their power to prevent further conflicts around the globe.

Second update on biogas plant

Since I wrote my article for the Cornish Guardian, I have continued to plug away at County Hall to try to get answers, and to encourage the Council to take action.

Printed below is an update I circulated to local residents at the end of last week.

On 5th November, I had a meeting with Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle (Head and Assistant Head of Planning & Regeneration) for over three hours, and I have the following to report back.

Sorry for the length and that much of the information is of a very technical nature.

I formally remade the following requests:

- A formal letter clarifying the Council’s position on the (i) first non-material amendment (NMA) and whether the Council will be challenging what was agreed about vehicle movements, and (ii) how the authority will be dealing with further changes to the traffic movements (that agreed within the original consent and the initial NMA).

- A formal letter clarifying the Council’s position on the second NMA (downsizing of tanks) and the failure of Greener for Life to build the tanks in compliance to any agreed plans, as well as what action the Council will be taking.

- A decision from the Council about the latest statement from Greener for Life (about increased lorry movements between 7th and 14th November), which would not be in compliance with the construction management plan or the conditions for the consent, and what action it will be taking.

- An update on what progress has been made with regard to Cornwall Council investigating the possibility of an access directly off the A30.

- An update on what progress has been made with regard to Cornwall Council Highways, reviewing the state of the roads through Higher Fraddon (and surrounding areas) and what can be done.

- A decision from the Council about the constraints for both the construction and operational phases for the biogas plant, because it is clear to me that their present operations are not in compliance with either the construction management plan for the build or the actual planning consent.

- A census of existing traffic movements through Higher Fraddon and surrounding areas.

The main part of the discussion focussed on the failure of Greener for Life to build the three tanks in compliance with agreed plans.

Phil Mason confirmed that two members of the Council’s enforcement team were on site all-day on Monday surveying the site and what has been built. They are presently working on all the data and will have submitted all the information to senior officers by the end of the week.

However, Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle already accept that the tanks are not in compliance with the planning consent (or the subsequent NMA). This is very significant for us, as it means that the tanks do not have the benefit of planning permission and the biogas plant will, I believe, need to be revisited through the planning process. I understand it could also mean that the NMAs are also no longer valid.

Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle contacted Greener for Life to tell them about the situation and informed them that they were about to send a letter to them setting out the Council’s concerns and seeking an immediate meeting.

This meeting has been agreed for 5.00 on Monday (10th November). I will be present at this meeting.

The letter sent yesterday was as follows:

Dear Sirs

Biogas Plant at Penare Farm, Higher Fraddon

I refer to the above development that was granted planning permission under reference number PA12/01700. Subsequent to that permission two non-material amendments were granted under application numbers PA13/09571 and PA14/06189.

As you are aware two enforcement cases were raised following complaints about breaches of the construction management plan and the more fundamental issue that was being raised that the Digesters were not being built in accordance with either the approved plans or those granted under PA14/06189.

The provisional results of the site survey that was undertaken on 4 November 2014 indicate that the Digesters are not being built in accordance with the approved plans. They therefore do not have the benefit of planning permission. As such the Digesters are being erected at your own risk and may be liable to enforcement action.

Following the results of the full site survey the Council will need to determine what course of action to take and whether specifically to issue a Temporary Stop Notice in advance of an Enforcement Notice.

I have been made aware that there is an intention to transport waste to the site from 6 November 2014 to prime the Digesters. Given the results of the provisional site survey and the implications this has for the planning position I would recommend that you delay this activity until the full results of the survey are known. This would give us an opportunity to determine the facts and consider appropriate remedies and actions together.

I would therefore recommend that we meet at 5.00pm New County Hall, Truro on Monday 10 November 2014 or at a mutually convenient time.

If the waste is transported onto the site in advance of our meeting and it proves disruptive then the likelihood that a Temporary Stop Notice would be issued will increase.

I trust the above is satisfactory and look forward to meeting you next week.

Yours sincerely,
Nigel Doyle (Assistant Head of Planning & Regeneration)

As you will see, the Council is still considering how it can use its powers to address or revisit issues relating to the biogas plant. I can confirm that the Council is also seeking legal clarification on some points.

It is all extremely complex situation, both for the validity of the planning permission but also related “conditions.” I will report back further, next week, when I have greater clarity.

In advance of the meeting next Monday, it is also my intention to meet with key representatives of the Higher Fraddon Residents Action Group to talk through the technical / legal matters relating to the biogas site, so that I can push forward local views.

I have the following additional updates to report.

At yesterday’s meeting, Phil Mason acknowledged that the Council’s Highways Officers were stretched and he agreed that, instead of using in-house staff, he would commission a highways expert to review the state of the roads through Higher Fraddon, etc, and investigate the technical possibilities for an access directly off the A30.

Phil Mason also agreed that he would sanction a census of existing traffic movements through Higher Fraddon and surrounding areas, as background data to aid future discussions around the biogas plant, etc.

Update on development of biogas plant at Fraddon

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian covered the issues facing the people of Higher Fraddon because of the construction of a biogas plant and the redevelopment of a pig farm. It was as follows:

In my time as a Cornwall Councillor, I have been involved with a wide range of planning matters in my local area and across Cornwall as a whole. Sadly, many of my recent experiences have left me extremely jaded.

One debacle is still unfolding at Higher Fraddon, where an AD (anaerobic digestion) or biogas plant is being developed next to a pig farm. The plant will create gas from pig slurry mixed with other organic materials.

There is a great deal of anger in the area, as shown by the fact that more than 120 residents crammed into Kingsley Village, last Thursday, for a public meeting that I had organised and which was attended by senior representatives of Cornwall Council, as well as spokespeople for both the company developing the biogas plant and the actual pig farm.

Some editions of the Cornish Guardian have covered the dispute in recent weeks, but I wanted to further outline some aspects of what has happened in this column.

The original planning permission for the biogas plant was granted in early 2009 by the old County Council. I was not involved in the deliberations, (as I was not a county councillor at the time), but I do recall some of the local discussions.

Concerns were raised about the poor road access through Higher Fraddon to the pig farm, but it was claimed that the plant would take all the pig slurry from farm – which would no longer be spread on local fields – reducing odour, while the number of vehicle movements would be reduced.

Work started on the construction of the biogas plant in the summer, while the redevelopment of the pig farm – now in a separate ownership – was also commenced (but without planning permission). The biogas plant even decided to dig up the road to lay a gas pipe along the road – instead of through a field as previously agreed.

And as a consequence of three different lots of construction traffic, local residents have had a nightmare of a summer – with traffic, noise, dust and flies amongst the problems.

The original consent restricted the number of vehicle movements (to the pig farm and plant, once operational) to no more than 51 “two-way” traffic movements each week. But it has recently transpired that Cornwall Council had agreed a “non-material amendment” (NMA) in 2013, on which I, the Parish Council and local residents had not been consulted.

The NMA basically allowed some of the vehicles to be larger. For example, the original conditions set out there would be five 44-tonne lorries each week, but the NMA allowed this to be increased to 13.

The original application also stated that 6,150 tonnes of bakery and brewery waste would be brought in to mix with the slurry, but the developer is now stating that he intends to bring in 38,700 tonnes of feedstock, a six-fold increase – much of it specially grown maize silage. 

I consider all this to be extremely “material” and I am challenging how such changes were allowed to be made.

I also understand that the developer wishes to again modify the nature of his agreed 51 vehicle movements, by further increasing the number of 40-tonne or 44-tonne lorries – something which fills me and local residents with great trepidation.

Residents are extremely worried about the devastating impact of such large vehicles on the road past their properties – which everyone considers to be a “lane” – and we are now campaigning for an alternative access off the A30 running past Fraddon, in order to protect the amenity of local residents.

And earlier this year, the developer asked the Council to agree a further NMA which reduced the size of the three large tanks on the site. But when they were completed in October, it became apparent that the tanks were taller than agreed and had not been constructed in compliance with the agreed plans.

I could go on and on, but it would take many thousands of words to fully detail what has been happening at Higher Fraddon.

But I trust that what I have written this week does help to explain why I feel very despairing at the moment and why many residents of St Enoder Parish feel let down by Cornwall Council and the developers working on the pig farm and biogas plant at Higher Fraddon.