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Thursday, 17 October 2013

Westminster Imposed Planning

Last Tuesday saw the latest round of officer driven housing target inflation. See here.

Despite the fact that Cornwall Council, in its "Full Council, 123 elected representatives" form has already voted for a housing target of 42,000 new houses to be included in our Local Plan - the officers, cabinet members bamboozled by the officers and councillors with an interest in 'regeneration' want more. It is clear that a Local Plan will not be presented to Westminster until our elected representatives have been browbeaten into agreeing agreed with the unelected officials.

Only the evidence that is robust is allowed to carry any weight and it seems that the definition of robust is whatever supports the imposition of housing in Cornwall to meet the needs of Westminster's planning scheme.

We are told that we have to have some unknown amount of housing or else Westminster will put a red pencil line through our 'Local' Plan.

Of curse the argument that is made to try and persuade your everyday voter is that there is a housing crisis and we need to build our way out of it. We need to build affordable homes.

In Cornwall the average house costs 8 times the average wage. Most lenders will only provide a mortgage 4 times the applicants wage. This means that, to allow an average person in Cornwall to buy an average house, house prices would need to halve or wages would need to double. There is no chance of the latter and not even the gung-ho development brigade will give you any kind of figure as to how many houses would need to be built in order to reduce the cost of a house.

The problem is that the housing market doesn't work that way. If you build more houses you don't simply decrease demand in Cornwall you will increase it. This is because the vast majority of extra properties can't be bought by locals so logically must be purchased by wealthy people from outside Cornwall. Building houses will not have any significant impact on housing people who are in need in Cornwall. It will simply act to keep the average wage down because there will be more people living here without any extra jobs being created. In fact building more houses will make the situation worse.

What about affordables you ask? Well the problem is that 'affordable' in Westminster speak does not mean 'affordable' as you would find it in a dictionary. In housing terms 'affordable' has many different, convoluted definituons which really mean bugger all. And even when a developer agrees to build a small number of affordables this agreement (rarely actually carried out as initially agreed) it just means that open market house prices are inflated further to ensure that a 'reasonable' profit is made.

At the Plaid Cymru conference last week, Leanne Wood denounced the fact that Wales is a net exporter of energy and yet has the highest energy costs in the UK. She said that if the market isn't working for the public then the public should take back the market. This is the only way that Cornwall will be able to sort out its housing challenges. We need to demand control over our own planning system - root and branch. We need a national legislative assembly for Cornwall.


  1. A comment I have received by email:

    I think our Cornwall Councillors (and our MPs) should be pushing for a change to planning conditions rather than this drive to keep building more and more open market houses in order to supplement some affordable homes. All new homes built in Cornwall should have a planning condition restricting them to permanent year round occupation, this would keep them as low cost housing (semi open market i.e. not available for second home owners/holiday accommodation). We also need to stop all new secure warden type flats for elderly, retiring population wanting to move down here from up country. New retirement homes should be for local need only (not necessarily 100% affordable, but 100% for current population). Building the right types of homes at the right types of prices for our resident community – i.e. a mix of affordable and low cost housing for local needs only is the correct way forward. Cornwall is a unique part of the world and for this reason it needs its own unique planning policies and conditions, similar to those applied in the Channel Islands.


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