Thursday last week saw a plethora of different elections across the UK and among these polls was a referendum in St Ives. Local folk voted by 83% to 17% in favour of a policy to ban the building of new second homes. Faced with a housing market described as ‘financial cleansing’ of the locals, that’s no surprise, though of course it does nothing to ease the pressure on houses already built.
Reactions ranged from great interest, among towns and villages elsewhere, including western Wessex, to threats of judicial review by appalled developers. Wessex already has an example of this type of policy, in the Lynton and Lynmouth Neighbourhood Plan in Devon, but this could be argued as an exception because of its location within the Exmoor National Park. What happens when exceptions become the new rule?
Ministers in Lunnon insist that this is the sort of thing up with which they will not put. The law will be changed to curb these uppity yokels. Cornwall is surely somewhere that only comes into existence during the holiday season and switches itself off afterwards. Localism? Oh, we really are having a laugh.
The current issue of the MK magazine Cornish Nation highlights the raw deal that Cornwall is increasingly getting. A cross-border Devonwall Parliamentary constituency is looming, regardless of token recognition of the Cornish as a national minority. (If approved, this will make it impossible for MK candidates to represent Cornwall and only Cornwall, just as it will make it impossible for us to represent Wessex and only Wessex.) Last month, a paltry £150,000 a year grant to support the Cornish language – equivalent to about three MPs’ expenses claims – was peremptorily withdrawn, to widespread dismay. Cornwall’s Grand Bard described this spiteful act, so damaging to the tourism offer, as “an ideological decision based on indifference and not a financial one based on fiscal responsibility”.
Last year’s ‘Cornwall Devolution Deal’ was so feeble as to be an abuse of the word ‘devolution’, so limited in scope that it did not merit legislation or even a Commons debate. The key areas of housing and planning are excluded from the deal. Instead, the centralist inspection regime has imposed on Cornwall a much higher housebuilding target than that deemed appropriate by the majority of local residents and also re-written the council’s affordable housing policies to undermine their effectiveness.
As if to pour petrol on the flames, the Court of Appeal yesterday ruled it lawful for the London regime to prevent councils seeking contributions to affordable housing from sites of 10 homes or fewer, overturning a previous ruling obtained by Reading and West Berkshire councils. These small windfall sites, often redevelopment sites, are the sort that can make a significant – and generally uncontroversial – contribution to housing development in our towns and villages. Excluding them means that councils are ever more reliant on the volume housebuilders to deliver their one affordable for every two market houses.
This in turn puts ever more pressure on councils to allow more market houses than are actually needed by the local population, leading to yet more second homes and an influx of retired folk whose social care costs later in life are met from local taxation, not from national taxation or by the areas in which they paid taxes when working. Meanwhile, as the Revenue Support Grant is being squeezed out of existence its place is being taken by the New Homes Bonus, a shameless bribe to councils to build or lose out.
This all began in the 1980s when we largely stopped building council houses and loaded the cost of social housing onto homebuyers, who themselves are often struggling to afford the prices. Landowners do nicely though, with three attempts since 1945 at capturing their heightened development value through taxation or public ownership overturned by the Tories and no fourth attempt in sight.
The point we have to hammer home is that you really do get what you vote for. Cornwall elected the full set of six Tory MPs last year. What did it expect to get in return? Little victories like St Ives mean nothing if the one lot can still count on your vote ‘to keep the other lot out’. Tory, Labour, LibDem. All centralist and all rotten to the core. So forget ‘the other lot’. Be your own lot and deny them all the power to do your community lasting harm.