Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Tristan Mackie, Gweek Parish Councillor, and Steering Group Member for Cornwall for Change (HPB 143)

It is with great surprise that I have recently learned from Cornwall Council of the proposed Housing & Planning Bill (2015). I was also shocked to hear that the closing date for consultation submissions is today, 10th December, 2015 – I therefore hope that you receive and acknowledge receipt of the letter in good time.

I have therefore only had a short time to get acquainted with the overall message and have not had time to get to grips with all the details – and as they say, the devil is in the detail.

It is quite clear that this topic (Housing and Planning) was omitted from the recent Devolution Deal that our PM, David Cameron signed, because the last thing Central Government wants is our Unitary Authority having powers to restrict development in this county. I use the word county, very loosely bearing in mind our unique status within the United Kingdom – but I do not have time to go into that here and now. Suffice to say that this Bill and Central Government is blind and deaf to our unique position, whereas the EU has started to recognize it, starting with the Framework Convention for National Minorities - and this Bill is in direct violation of this status.

Our exiting Chief Executive stated in public earlier this year that this is Developers World and that we had better get used to it. So where is the democracy in that, I ask myself? "Nowhere" is the answer.

Therefore I wish to explain some of the background in Cornwall that this new Bill will affect significantly and why I am not happy with the drivers behind this Bill.

We are a unique and beautiful part of the UK, (as are many areas) but it is the uniqueness that we are trying to preserve. Our Local Plan is buried in the Planning Inspectorate Offices, and in the latest letter from the Inspector, our Council has been forced to accept an increase in Housing numbers, primarily to allow for more Second Homes. The amount of Second Homes in this County is killing Communities already. Some of the smallest coastal villages are ghost villages, where the heart has been squeezed out of it, with there not being enough residents to keep the local village shop or pub open.

We have been awarded various funds due to the poverty in Cornwall from Europe, but the house prices continue to spiral upwards completely marginalizing the local people of all ages - especially the youngsters. There are no affordable houses for them to be able to lay down a deposit on, let alone buy. So what hope for the 28,000 people on our housing list? Note also there are 28,000 people on our housing waiting list – not the 52,500 we are being told to build. Oh, of course, this is the number needed to allow for more Second Home buyers – the village killers!

Let’s hypothetically assume that these houses are needed – there is absolutely no mention of supporting infrastructure from Central Government or the developers being made to create this infrastructure – it will happen by magic it would appear.

Th words of our exiting Chief Executive referred to earlier is obviously a direct reflection of our Prime Minister’s and Chancellors economic plan to "build our way out of recession and the economic crisis". Hence such white elephants as HS1 & HS2. This is all about boosting the Construction Industry which will create new jobs, hence taking people off unemployment benefits and then those new jobs creating more income tax and the construction companies paying more corporation tax. So the plan is clear – it just isn’t thought through in terms of the effect on unique places that are unique income generators due to tourism, which are there because of the landscape and beaches, which are going to be buried under more concrete. This level of development is not sustainable.

So, enough of the background. Now to the proposed Housing & Planning Bill, to which I object wholeheartedly, in its current form. We in Cornwall should be creating this Bill, not a Government Department 400 miles away – how can they have any idea what is needed down here?

It would appear that the Bill has been written by people who live and work in large urban areas and have no concept of rural life and the fragility of the lives in those hamlets, because that is where they "go on holiday for 2 weeks of the year" and not live there like the indigenous people living hand to mouth 365 days of the year.

All planning has to be judged against the NPPF – a Framework, not a Policy Statement. A Framework encourages interpretation which has to be argued and negotiated over – and as such nothing is protected; because developers can create their own argument and then by interpretation declare that they have complied with the NPPF – and if any planning authority have the audacity to refuse their application, then the application will be appealed and the funding-strapped Planning Authority will have costs awarded against them, which has to come from the people’s Council Tax.

So they are forced, yes, forced, often against their better judgment and their local people’s wishes to approve every planning application – call this democracy – certainly not.

So this Bill only reinforces the wide open NPPF to allow Government to build, build, build. And we are powerless to stop it. This Government completely ignores the private individual, the local uniqueness of Cornwall and every other region in favour of building anything anywhere, with the full and total support of the construction industry and its supply chain. It pays lip service to the Localism Bill, which is obviously in tatters and disregarded by anyone in building.

But let’s not forget our protection – the Local Plan & Neighbourhood Plan. These are our instruments where the local people can influence the policies and ensure that development is sustainable and appropriate and proportionate for their area. The flaw in this is that the Planning Inspectorate, under instruction from its Government Minister, won’t allow any policies in these Plans that prevent development. No Localism at all. We are stitched at every turn.

As you have gathered I am in direct opposition of the current Developer’s Charter, as promoted by the current Government, in the disguise as the Housing and Planning Bill, as a way to build our way out of trouble, with a complete devil may care attitude to the people and our green and pleasant land.

The proposed Housing and Planning Bill will make the current challenges in Cornwall worse and exacerbate the pressures on the local rural communities and Unitary Authority and as such it is highly inappropriate for this beautiful, special, unique county.

Finally I am writing this as a local Parish Councillor and resident of Cornwall. I am in the front line and the local person that locals come to when discussing how policies will affect them.

I fully expect that these words will fall on deaf ears, but felt that they had to be written as a snap-shot of how many people think in this area. I urge you to reconsider this Bill and the detrimental effects it will have on Cornwall.

December 2015

Prepared 14th December 2015