Thursday, 27 February 2020

My latest monthly report to St Enoder Parish Council

My latest monthly report was presented to a meeting of St Enoder Parish Council on Tuesday. It covers the period from 27th January to 26th February 2020. It is as follows:

Listed below are some examples of the activities that I have been involved with over the month.

1.0 Council meetings and related activities

I attended a number of formal meetings and briefings at Cornwall Council. These included the Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee and an associated all-day briefing session; a briefing session for the Council’s Informal Investment Panel; a meeting about climate change hosted by the Network Panels for the China Clay Area, Par and St Blazey Area and St Austell; a members’ get-together in the China Clay Area; China Clay Network meeting; the Positive Parking Panel; a briefing in advance of the next Full Council meeting; a Group Leaders’ meeting; and a workshop for Cornwall Councillors to consider how the unitary authority might operate after the number of elected members is reduced from 123 to 87 in May 2021.

The Community Governance Review (into the boundaries of parishes) is ongoing through the Electoral Review Panel (of which I am vice-chairman). In the last month, I have attended three related public meetings at Liskeard, Penzance and Truro.

I was also part of a Council delegation to the National Assembly for Wales to discuss issues of mutual concern, including funding for economic regeneration and support for Celtic culture and identity.

There have also been informal meetings with a range of officers at the unitary authority, some of which are referenced below, and I have also attended three meetings of St Enoder Parish Council.

2.0 Other meetings / events

In addition to the above meetings, I also attended meetings of the Committee which is planning the local VE Day celebrations for 8th May, the annual general meeting of Indian Queens Pit (of which I am a trustee / committee member) and the ClayTAWC centre in St Dennis (Chairman). I also gave a talk to St Neot History Society about the history of St Enoder Parish.

3.0 Indian Queens School

A key priority for me continues to be getting improvements in the vicinity of Indian Queens School.

3.1 New footway from Harvenna Heights estate

In terms of the proposed new pathway to be constructed across the field to the west of the School to the Harvenna Heights estate, I can re-affirm that this has been agreed with Cornwall Council. Put simply, the majority of the field will be fenced off for recreation use by the School. The remainder of the field will be transferred to the ownership of the Parish Council, and a path will then be built across this land.

I continue to meet the officer who is dealing with the transfer of the land to the Parish Council, along with a sum to construct the new pathway. But before the transfer can be finalised, the School and Council need to agree the exact extent of the land to enclosed for the School. I am hopeful that this can sorted in the next few weeks and we can get the transfer sorted.

3.2 Travel Plan

As previously reported, I have been lobbying extremely hard to get Cornwall Council to deliver improvements suggested within the Travel Plan (such as crossings on Chapel Road and St Francis Road), that was produced in association with the planning permission to increase the size of the School.

I can confirm that the Council has commenced a feasibility assessment of what could be appropriate in the village and to provide detail about what could be delivered. Following a meeting with officers on 23rd January to discuss my local perspective on the matter and I have been in regular contact with the team.

Staff from Cormac have been out to view the area and they are presenting recording vehicle numbers and speeds in the locality. It is my understanding that the study will be completed in March.

4.0 Summercourt School

Officers at the Council continue to investigate improvements outside Summercourt School, such as a variable 20 mph limit. This would be funded through the Community Network monies for highway improvements. I hope that there will soon be a scheme that falls within the Network Panel’s budget, which I will be able to share with the School and others.

5.0 A3058

As previously reported, Cornwall Council will soon receive funding from central government for improvements along the A3058. The monies have to be spent between the crossroads at Summercourt and the roundabout at Quintrell Downs. I have been seeking specific improvements within Summercourt village itself, such as a permanent vehicle activated sign at the northern entrance into the village and pedestrian crossings linked to the traffic lights on the crossroads.

These plans are being finalised and it is my intention to publicise them in the locality as soon as they are agreed.

In relation to this scheme, I have some further good news. As noted above, the government monies cannot be spent to the south of Summercourt crossroads, so I formally requested that the Council look to provide an additional vehicle activated sign to face traffic entering Summercourt along St Austell Street. I am very pleased to report that this has been agreed and this work will also be done in 2020.

6.0 Other highway matters

I continue to receive representations on a range of local traffic matters, which I am dealing with as well as I can.

6.1 Localised flooding

It would be an understatement to say that the weather has horrendous over the last couple of months. Throughout this period, I have been monitoring areas of the highway network, which have in the past been susceptible to flooding, liaising with local representatives of Cormac. One area where there was a particular problem with flooding has been at Trefullock.

6.2 Kingsley Village complex

Over the last few months, I have numerous complaints relating to parking and associated problems in the area around Kingsley Village. At my request, a meeting was held at Cornwall Council on 29th January with planning and highway officers. They did not agree to any specific actions at his point, but I am making further representations.

7.0 New estate at Mitchell

Bidding for the 18 “affordable” properties at this new estate, presently being constructed by Coastline Housing, took place between 12th and 17th February. I had previously publicised the scheme on my newsletter, which was distributed around much of the parish in November and December. I was very disappointed that Coastline Housing did not inform me of their timetable for the lettings as I had anticipated, which meant that I was not able to help advertise the properties in advance of the advert going live. I have since helped some local residents with their bidding and status on the

The Parish Clerk and I have also been in contact with Coastline Housing and Cornwall Council following complaints about mud on the road through Mitchell and problems with the parking of contractors’ vehicles.

8.0 Planning matters

8.1 Planning applications 

There have been a number of live planning applications in St Enoder Parish, on which I have been liaising with planning officers. I will update in more detail in my next monthly report.

8.2 Neighbourhood Plan

As reported previously, the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan was submitted to Cornwall Council last year and it then went through examination by an inspector. A number of changes were made to the document and it was published in a revised form. The process has been delayed somewhat by the threat of a judicial review from a local developer, but the Parish Council is expecting an update from Cornwall Council in the near future.

9.0 Bus timetable

Cornwall Council has been out to tender on bus services across decisions. I have requested the full details of what has been agreed in terms of area. Once I get the details, I will make them available to local people.

10.0 Strategy for the China Clay Area

The Clay Area Network has been working on a Strategy for the parishes of the China Clay Area, though this has been delayed because of staff illness at the unitary authority. The Cornwall Councillors are presently reviewing the content of a final draft, which will then be circulated to local Parish Councils for further comment.

11.0 Forest for Cornwall

One element of Cornwall Council’s action plan to tackle climate change is the plan to plant a Forest for Cornwall. As part of this initiative, there are plans to increase tree cover in communities across Cornwall. Earlier this month, it was announced that a small number of trees would be planted in or around a number of local greenspaces. Within our parish, they have included St James View, Fraddon, on the list, though they have yet to work up any details of their plan for the site.

12.0 Tour of Britain

It has been confirmed that the first phase of this year’s Tour of Britain cycle race will take place in Cornwall on 6th September 2020. The route is from Penzance to Bodmin, and will go along the A3058 through Summercourt, and there will be an opportunity for community events to be arranged in association with the event.

13.0 Community Fund

As a Cornwall Councillor, I am allocated £2,000 each year, which I can grant to local groups. I can confirm that for 2019-2020, my allocation has been split between Indian Queens Half Marathon, Indian Queens Methodist Chapel (for works on the Sunday School building used by the Wesley Pre-School), St Enoder Age Concern and the St Enoder Tug of War team.

14.0 Inquiries

During the last month, I have helped numerous people with guidance on a range of issues.

Funding for HS2 - what about the rest of the UK?

My article in this week's Cornish Guardian comments on the billions being spent on HS2 and the implications for the rest of the UK. It is as follows:

Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government has given the go-ahead to HS2, the proposed high speed railway between London and the Midlands / north of England. About ten years ago, the project was projected to cost £32.2 billion, but by 2015 this had risen to £56 billion. It is presently estimated that it will cost £106 billion.

The first phase between London and Birmingham could be open by 2028-2031, while the second phase to Manchester and Leeds would not be operational until 2035-2040.

I am usually a strong supporter of an improved public transport network, but I really do struggle with the whole concept of HS2. It may well increase capacity on the network and reduce journey times, but I feel central government should instead prioritise the rebuilding and strengthening of the wider rail network decimated by Beeching’s cuts in the 1960s.

The Department for Transport (DOT) says travellers can now get from Birmingham to London in about one hour and 21 minutes. I have travelled on this route on a number of occasions, and I have always thought it was a pretty good service. The DOT want to reduce travel times to about 52 minutes.

Looking at it all from a Cornish perspective, the present trip between Birmingham and London takes the same time as a journey from Penzance to Liskeard. In terms of HS2 times, someone would be able to get from the Midlands to London just as quick as someone could get from Penzance to St Austell.

In terms of distance and time, it all seems a bit unbalanced. And it is frankly nonsensical that Ministers have yet to secure the sustainability of western lines by sorting out the situation at Dawlish.

It is interesting to note that opponents of HS2 are making the claim that the investment is not about attempting to “level up” across the country, but will “simply make London an even more dominant economic centre.” There are complaints that too many of the proposed new jobs will be in London and we must not forget that the UK is still in the process of spending £40 billion on its Crossrail project between Heathrow Airport and the Canary Wharf financial district.

It remains my fear that with the UK Government spending so much money on projects such as HS2 and Crossrail, it could mean that less money is spent in places such as Cornwall. That is why I believe there needs to be an ongoing year-on-year audit of capital expenditure across all the parts of the UK, in order to insure parity of investment.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Privilege in education and a right to govern?

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian looked at the educational privilege of the UK Government’s Cabinet, compared to the rest of the UK. It was as follows:

The Prime Minister has just reshuffled his cabinet and the BBC was quick to carry out research into the make-up of his team. In this assessment, there was a strong focus on the educational background of the politicians, which showed that cabinet members were “ten times more likely to have gone to a private school than members of the public.”

The actual figures show that 6.5% of the general population have attended fee-paying schools, but for the cabinet of Eton-educated Boris Johnson, the figure is a massive 69%. I was a little surprised to see that this represents a considerable shift from Theresa May’s first cabinet, in which less than a third were educated at private schools.

I agree with Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust, a charity which aims to improve social mobility and address educational disadvantage. He is adamant that the make-up of Johnson’s cabinet “underlines once again how unevenly spread the opportunities are to enter the elites” and that “Britain is an increasingly divided society … divided by politics, by class, by geography.”

This is borne out by the figures which show that 50% of Johnson's cabinet went to university at Oxford or Cambridge. Hardly a new phenomenon, 11 of the UK’s 15 post-war Prime Ministers went to Oxford. Of the remaining four, Winston Churchill and Gordon Brown went to Sandhurst’s Royal Military College and Edinburgh University respectively, while James Callaghan and John Major did not attend university.

The Government’s own Social Mobility Commission and the Sutton Trust recently published its Elitist Britain 2019 report. This states that: “The research finds that power rests with a narrow section of the population – the 7% who attend private schools and the 1% who graduate from Oxford and Cambridge. The report reveals a ‘pipeline’ from fee-paying schools through to Oxbridge and into top jobs.”

The document adds that: “Social mobility, the potential for those to achieve success regardless of their background, remains low … the most influential people across sport, politics, the media, film and TV, are five times as likely to have attended a fee-paying school.”

Figures from the Sutton Trust found that public bodies dominated by “private school alumni” include the judiciary (65% of senior judges), civil service permanent secretaries (59 per cent) and unelected Lords in the second chamber (57 per cent).

In 21st century Britain, this inequality in opportunity is frankly unjust. Why should someone educated at Fettes College, Harrow or Eton, continue to have such advantages over individuals who have gone to secondary schools in their local areas?

Sunday, 16 February 2020

No to House of Lords

As a campaigner for democratic reform, I have always been opposed to the existence of the House of Lords.

There are about 800 men and women who have the right to sit in this so-called “Upper House,” and I do not agree that unelected individuals, largely appointed through political patronage, should have such real and far-reaching legislative influence.

Not so long ago, in 2015, David Cameron created 45 peers to sit in the House of Lords, which comprised a host of retired MPs, MPs who recently lost their seats, political fixers and donors, plus corporate lobbyists.

Described at the time as the “honours that shame Britain,” it was followed by Cameron’s “resignation honours list,” in which the former Prime Minister created another 16 new life peers –13 of which were Conservatives. One was a former treasurer of the Conservative Party, who had personally gifted about £2.5 million to the Tories.

Another 19 peers were created in 2019 as part of another “resignation honours list” and Theresa May’s personal choices were mostly staff members from her administration.

Boris Johnson has already created a couple of new Lords, though newspaper reports suggest there may be more along soon. So far, Nicky Morgan, who stood down as an MP in 2019, and Zac Goldsmith, who actually lost his seat at the last election, were ennobled so that they could continue as government ministers, albeit from the second chamber. It is little wonder that such actions are making a mockery of British democracy.

It my view that the present House of Lords is an out-dated institution that has no place in twenty-first century Britain. For the sake of our democracy, it must be abolished or possibly reformed into a fully elected second chamber.

Previous attempts to reform the Lords have been a shambles, but there is again speculation about efforts to replace the second chamber with one comprising elected representatives from the “nations and regions” of the United Kingdom.

While this would be an improvement, I am worried whether there would be any representatives from Cornwall in the new body. The last time there was a detailed proposal for an elected House of Lords, it was suggested that there should be 33 representatives for the “south west,” elected via a list form of proportional representation.

As is so often the case, unlike Wales and Scotland, our territorial integrity was ignored by the political establishment, which had no concerns about Cornish interests being lost in some amorphous constituency stretching as far as Bristol and Tewkesbury. If reform does finally happen, Cornwall must be guaranteed its own voices.

[This was my article in last week’s Cornish Guardian].

Standing up for Cornwall in a post-Brexit UK

Eleven o’clock on 31st January 2020 has passed. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has left the European Union and, whatever everyone’s individual views on Brexit, we are now entering a new political era under a majority Conservative government.

What happens now is especially important.

In a statement from the Prime Minister, he returned to themes regularly being espoused by the Conservatives at the moment. He argued that Brexit means the UK Government had “taken back the tools of self-government,” which could be used to improve the lives of “everyone in every corner of our United Kingdom.” Boris Johnson also spoke about spreading “hope and opportunity,” and repeated his oft-stated commitment to “level up” the United Kingdom.

If these pledges are to mean anything at all, the Conservatives must prioritise what is in the best interests of Cornwall – which is still the poorest nation within the UK – both in terms of the trade and other negotiations due to take place during the transition period and, most importantly, in future domestic policy and investment decisions.

In a separate intervention, Government Minister Michael Gove set out his view that Brexit equated to a complete “reset of the political system” and added that there “won't be a hiding place” for Westminster politicians like him. I sincerely hope he is correct about the heightened scrutiny that he and his colleagues will face in the weeks, months and years ahead.

It is my view that the people and communities of Cornwall need to take the representatives of the UK Government at their word, but we need to also put serious pressure on them to properly deliver for Cornwall.

In Wales, the leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price has already given a compelling speech in which he expressed the view that there was “little point” in revisiting recent battles over whether or not to exit the EU. He focussed on the need to find “new opportunities” for Wales “in the new landscape,” demanding a “positive post-Brexit plan for Wales” with more powers to the National Assembly of Wales to “tackle and solve Wales’ economic problems.”

Appropriating a Brexit campaign slogan, he demanded that Wales is able to “take back control” and make more decisions for itself through an enhanced devolution settlement

Here in Cornwall, it is vital that we approach the future in a similar fashion. We need to be ambitious and brave, and we need to speak up for Cornish communities at every opportunity.

[This article was recently published in the Cornish Guardian].