Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Conservatives playing games over housing numbers

There is a big decision to be made at next week's council meeting about the draft Local Plan for Cornwall. This is the planning strategy for the next 20 years which sets out, among other things, the number of new houses which are to be built in Cornwall in that time.

It's a very contentious issue. Quite rightly, people don't want to see Cornwall being concreted over. But there are very large numbers of people who already live here who need new homes and the way we live today requires more housing than we needed 20 years ago.

There are two numbers being put forward for debate next week. One is for 47,500 new homes over the next 20 years. The other is for 42,500. Both are substantially lower than the old figure under what was known as the regional spatial strategy which called for a number in the mid 60,000's.

The Conservative group is apparently putting forward an alternative for 33,000 homes. That will sound very attractive to those who are worried about the amount of new building. But it is actually a recipe for disaster. Here's why:

The local plan is not something over which Cornwall Council has total control. It also has to be approved by an inspector acting on behalf of the government. That inspector has to judge whether or not the plan meets the minimum standards laid down by ministers. The indications are that they are being very demanding as regards housing numbers. Wiltshire - a very similar authority to Cornwall, recently submitted their plan with housing numbers the equivalent of our 42,500 number. Their plan was rejected.

If a plan is rejected then it is back to the drawing board and a delay of around two years. During that time, there is no local plan. In effect, it is a developers free-for-all with almost no local control over what is built.

That's what the Conservative amendment - which is certain to be rejected by the inspector - will mean - a comparative free-for-all during which local communities will have much less say.

So the bare minimum for councillors next week will be to agree a local plan and housing numbers which are likely to be accepted by the inspector. That may well mean having to accept a number higher than many people would think is ideal. It would probably be more use for Conservative councillors to lobby their colleagues in government for more local control over our affairs (as we did yesterday) than to play games and put forward a number which has no hope of success.

UPDATE: A couple of rather pathetic Tory ex councillors have suggested that the above post somehow indicates that 'Lib Dems want to cover Cornwall in second homes'. Quite clearly it doesn't and we don't.

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