Friday, 31 January 2014

Langarth Stadium nears critical deadline

Whatever your view on the Stadium for Cornwall and where it might go, I am sure that everybody will agree that we absolutely must have the stadium site at Langarth either as a stadium or as public open space.

I understood that there was a provision in the planning agreement which allowed the developer/landowner to claw back the land if it was not used for outdoor sport within 5 years.

With all the recent talk about the stadium I asked to see that agreement, which I have had  difficulty accessing on the Council website.  The five year clawback is there but that period has not started yet.

However, to my horror, I found that there is another deadline. The Council has to decide by a date, which could be as early as 10th March this year, whether to take an option over the relevant land for £1. It also must decide who takes the option and which out of two pieces of land to take. If it fails to do this then the Council would end up with a sum of £330,000 instead for open space elsewhere. This sounds a lot but would be nowhere nearly as valuable.

Frankly, I am surprised that the Council has not already taken up this option. It would be
terrible for the deadline to be missed.

I am asking the Leader of the Council to confirm that the option will be exercised in time.
To lose this opportunity by default would be disastrous.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Life under siege in Truro

I am delighted that Cllr Bert Biscoe is now going to grip the problem of commuter parking in Truro. I am regularly contacted by local residents who complain about living under siege conditions, unable to go out during the day without losing the ability to park again somewhere near their home to unload small children, shopping etc. Many work at home and losing the ability to return to their homes impacts on their livelihoods as well as their families. Elderly residents feel particularly vulnerable.

He is right that residents' parking schemes help some but can cause problems somewhere else. He is wrong, however, if he thinks that appealing to people's good nature will solve the problem. I think that residents need to be offered a parking scheme if there is local support for it. I do not see any alternative.

Cornwall Council must take a lead to sort out the siege that residents live under and also provide solutions for commuters and visitors to local clubs and other community venues. I am calling a public meeting to enable people to air their views and I very much hope that Bert Biscoe will attend.

What I am sure of is that whilst public transport is important it alone will not solve all our problems.

Cornwall Council slow to account

Cornwall Council is required to publish details of its spending over £500 in a “timely” manner according to government guidance and where possible it should be in real time.

This is perfectly possible to do and our nearest neighbours, Plymouth City Council, seem to promptly publish their details within two weeks of the end of each month.

Cornwall Council, however, are several months behind and I asked officers why they had a notice on the web-site which said that October and November details would be published by the end of December and hadn’t been. They immediately changed the comment (27th Jan) to say October’s data will be published by the end of this week. And November and December’s by 10th Feb.

Officers have said that this delay is due to “technical problems”. With cuts being made to services financial transparency needs to be a priority for this Council.

More offices - Less services

Cornwall Council has started consultations on cuts to the library service. This year's cuts are likely to be only the beginning.

I accept that times are tough but it is particularly upsetting to see the library budget slashed while in Bodmin work is about to start on a glittering new council office building at a cost of £15m.

This particular “Big Bodmin” plan is his own idea according to Cllr Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance. Having toured Cornwall to hear people’s views on the need for cuts he obviously heard different messages to me.

If we do not prioritise services above grand council buildings we will surely have failed the people of Cornwall. The approach must be 'Less for the Council, More for Cornwall'.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hopes for a Stadium

The enthusiasm and support for a stadium for Cornwall is still very evident and like most other people I support that vision. The latest announcement from INOX of another 35 acre proposed development to the west of Langarth holds out the possibility of a privately funded stadium.

Whilst the planning issues will need to be dealt with in the proper manner (and the method of dealing with the traffic issues would be my primary concern) I have a natural caution about the financial and legal guarantees that would be needed. Unfortunately we have been here before. It would be cruel in the extreme to raise hopes based on closed door meetings and undeliverable promises.

I have to question whether we would simply get a contribution to a stadium instead of money for roads, school places and other infrastructure which is normally a part of the planning process. Who is behind INOX? Many people are bound to ask why we should expect something for nothing from them?

No doubt INOX will make the details clear in due course and I hope my caution is unfounded. However, we have been disappointed in the past by unrealistic commercial ambitions and flakey business plans - it must not happen again.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A bad day and worse to come

Despite the best efforts of the Conservative group Cornwall Council have rejected Cllr Steve Chamberlain’s proposal for a housing growth number of 33,000 and have decided to consult Cornish residents on a figure of 47,500.

Whatever your view of the 'right' number it was disappointing that Cornwall Council decided to treat the assurance obtained by Sarah Newton MP from Nick Boles, Minister for Housing, as if it had never been given. Councillors are consistently asking that our MPs help them and on this occasion they have chosen to ignore her help.

In estimating the housing 'needed' for Cornwall for the purposes of the Local Plan, the Minister said that there was no fixed method for estimating the need, provided that the calculation was based on robust evidence.

The manner in which the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures are generally used for the assessment of housing need does not provide an accurate picture of the future population of Cornwall. This has been shown time and again. It should come as no surprise because our population growth is almost exclusively as a result of net inward migration, which is far more difficult to estimate than natural growth.

The housing report prepared by the council’s consultants predicts that between 47,300 and 71,980 dwellings will be needed.

Unfortunately the approach taken by Cornwall council in not challenging the consultant’s figures will allow the planning inspector who examines their plan the opportunity to ask why he/she should not require the higher number.

Recent examples of local authorities that have submitted evidence with a range of figures is that the inspector will require the top end of the range and not the bottom.

The net result of today’s decision by councillors voting for 47,500 is that they will open the door for the inspector to reject the plan as unsound and/or require a figure closer to 71,980.

A bad day for Cornwall and a disaster in the making.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Local Plan population numbers

Tomorrow (Tuesday 14th) we will be debating the Local Plan and the proposed housing numbers up to 2031. There are many contentious issues including the population predictions from the Office for National Statistics which have been consistently overestimated.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Housing number consenus

I'm delighted that Sarah Newton MP managed to secure support from the Planning Minister, Nick Boles, in a debate in Westminster Hall today for the approach our group has taken in promoting a lower housing number for Cornwall in the new Local Plan (33,000).

It seems clear that the proposal to build 47,500 (or 42,250) will not work to deal with true housing need in Cornwall.

Andrew George MP has also made the same sort of argument for lower numbers. For instance on 13th December he said, "It may sound counter intuitive, but the best way of meeting local housing need and to build homes which are generally affordable to local people on local earnings is to choose a low housing development figure, to stop housing development but then to permit some development where it meets a local need."

It does look as if there is the beginning of a consensus approach, at least amongst our MPs.

Andrew George MP at

Sarah Newton MP at

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Local Plan debate

Conservative councillors will be pressing for a reduction in the number of houses in the 20 year Local Plan due to be discussed at Cornwall Council next Tuesday (14th January).

The contentious plans which have been the focus of protests at County Hall are based on recommendations from officers of 47,500 new dwellings in Cornwall up to 2031 with an alternative option for 42,500.

Cllr Steve Chamberlain a Conservative member of the planning advisory committee has tabled an amended figure of 33,000.

Cllr Chamberlain said, ‘The lower figure assumes that population growth in Cornwall continues at the same rate over the next 20 years as it has over the 10 years prior to the Plan. It still represents a very large amount of growth, particularly when we know that the number of people moving to Cornwall continues to decrease. Nevertheless, if we propose a figure lower than 33,000 it will be more difficult to justify to the Planning Inspectorate’.

An independent housing assessment reporting to the Council in July concluded that affordable housing needs were not being met under the present arrangements. Developers are required to offer a percentage of affordable dwellings and the effectiveness of this has been much criticised by councillors.

The amended overall figure still allows individual communities to increase housing numbers to meet their own needs.

“This is a baseline figure, not a maximum one,” said Cllr Chamberlain “and it does give more control back to local people.”