Friends of Pendower Beach AGM and open meeting: Thursday 13th November, Gerrans Memorial Hall
The politics of landscape protection: policy, implementation, decision-making: Mind the gap!
Once the annual accounts and the election of trustees on the AGM agenda had been dealt with, Adrian Phillips took the Chair and the panel discussion got under way at 7.40 pm.
The five candidates (the Labour Party and The United Kingdom Independence Party were unable to attend) - Sarah Newton MP (Conservative), Simon Rix (Liberal Democrat), Loic Rich (Independent), Sharron Kelsey (Green Party) and Rik Evans (National Health Action Party) - each spoke for five minutes. There seemed to be little disagreement between them on the importance and benefits of landscape protection. Neighbourhood Planning too, it was agreed, had much to offer.
The first question from the audience raised the issue of the “gap”. Why is it that despite broad agreement on the importance of landscape protection in Cornwall there is a yawning gap when it comes decision making and implementation?
For Sarah Newton the problem lay with the Unitary Authority. Cornwall Council had failed to do what the Coalition Government required of them – namely to produce a Local Plan for Cornwall. Without a new plan, which clearly defined the protected status of areas of outstanding natural beauty such as the Roseland, Planning Officers and Planning Inspectors would have no option but to follow old guidelines. The two candidates who were also Cornwall Councillors – Loic Rich and Simon Rix – took an opposite view and argued that it was the fault of the Coalition and particularly the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Loic Rich pointed out that Cornwall Council’s objections to a vast new development on the eastern side of Truro had been overruled. Rik Evans went further, saying this development was the most recent example of the cronyism and the arrogance of rich landowners and developers, who knew that an impoverished Cornwall Council couldn’t afford to defend its decisions through the courts.
The questioning then turned to the provision of affordable housing. What was an affordable price for house? Once again the candidates agreed that land prices, particularly on the Roseland, made development of any kind unaffordable for most young wage earners. Simon Rix suggested an affordable price these days would probably be around £50 thousand – preposterously low in the current market. The additional problem of second home ownership was raised by Sharron Kelsey. As an incomer to Cornwall in the past two years she worried that many purchasers in the Cornish property market were buying holiday homes for themselves or to let. Sarah Newton described existing schemes that her government had introduced to help Local Authorities provide low cost housing. Rik Evans argued for the introduction of rent controls.
A further question from the floor asked what the candidates thought about the idea of a special tax on second homes? Rather unexpectedly, Sarah Newton said she supported the idea of a second homes tax. She urged Cornwall Council to devise an effective way of doing this and said she would support any sensible proposals from the Council in an approach to the Secretary of State. The other candidates were, if anything, less wholehearted about the idea, particularly the Cornwall councillors. Julian German, Cornwall Councillor for the Roseland spoke from the floor to say that, when they were faced with a 100% Council Tax bill, many second home owners avoided paying by calling their homes rental businesses which are liable to a lower business rate.
Further questions asked about cuts in funding to Cornwall’s ANOB unit and specific decisions taken by Cornwall Planning Officers on the Roseland. Rik Evans lamented Cornwall’s rejection sixty years ago of a proposal that the most important landscape areas of the county should be combined into a National Park. He said that National Park status would have provided these areas with a higher degree of protection than they currently had as areas of outstanding natural beauty with under resourced protection.
At 9.30 pm Adrian Phillips thanked the candidates and concluded the discussion. He was, in turn, thanked by Helen Hastings who presented him with a copy of Philip Marsden’s new book, Rising Ground.
NOTE - Here are some relevant attachments: