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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 1:12 pm    Post subject: MEGA-BUILD IS LATEST CHAPTER IN THE TRASHING OF CORNWALL Reply with quote


by Bert Biscoe -- WMN 8/4/08

Sixty-eight thousand houses? In Cornwall? Where are they going to put them? For those people who keep up to date with the latest machinations in the committee rooms and council chambers, this is probably the central question at the moment.

Strangely enough, it is also the key question for all those whose voices are rarely, if ever, heard - those whom you might describe as "The Silent".

There are two principal questions people are asking: "Where are they going to put them?" and "Who is doing this?"

A third question lurks in that place between the conscious and sub-conscious: "Do Cornish people have any say any more in what happens, how or when it happens?"

Sadly, most people, including councillors and council officials, conclude that we do not. A few also ask: "Why not?" They are exasperated by the complacency with which the over-development, the exploitation, the laying waste, the tidying away and the trashing of Cornwall is being greeted by those who are used to speaking out, who are charged by their communities with achieving the best for Cornwall. In their hands lies the wellbeing of Cornwall's people and their legacy to their descendants. It is as if the stuffing has been knocked out of them - and, to be honest, it is difficult to see where to begin to challenge such folly with what feels like a juggernaut rolling inexorably towards us.

The spatial challenge is simple when placed in the context of the changes which we must face up to if we are to manage the impacts of climate change. Why would anybody in their right mind build a settlement from scratch in a clay pit in the middle of a weirdly beautiful but nonetheless largely barren part of Cornwall where the local town, St Austell, has been reduced to rubble by a well-meaning but inept development agency, and where Convergence (son-of-Objective One) is to be applied in generous dollops (30m) to try and assuage the travails of the local economy? The "suits" call it "The Clays" - which is as denying, bland and insulting as the soubriquet "CPR" with which the good people of Redruth and Camborne are lumbered as they await the surgical caress of "regeneration" to the tune of 140m. It is the sort of labelling which removes identity and, ultimately, silences the sensitive and the stoical.

CPR, The Clays, the AONB. These are no longer Cornish places with names rooted in ancient tongues or the birth of Christianity, these are cryptic labels on lever-arch files, so they can do as they please with no guilt. What are they doing to our Cornwall? Why do Cornish people feel excluded?

Planners have assumed an oil price of roughly 25-30 per barrel. But as they fumble over "core strategies" and "area action plans" it is teetering at 108 per barrel. Cornwall sustains a population of 520,000 by trucking in supplies (especially food) on a daily basis. Is this sustainable? We actually produce very little of what we need to sustain our population.

At its industrial peak in the 1870s, Cornwall failed abysmally to properly sustain a population of 300,000. True, we had no welfare state - only the poor law and the workhouse. And engineering, science and knowledge had not advanced sufficiently to achieve maximum effect for minimum effort. Ultimately, despite our best efforts, peak economic performance could not support such a population.

Today's spatial challenge is more than marking out a few "urban extensions", slapping in a park-and-ride scheme, knocking up an "innovation centre" to promote the "knowledge economy" and rebuilding St Austell. Why, then, are we being so complacent about the imposition of 68,000 houses in an economy which is typified by low wages, poverty and bad housing conditions? Why is there a pervading, numb silence?

So who is imposing this mad solution upon Cornwall? The answer is more frightening than the consequences - nobody really knows. The Government wants to build three million houses because statisticians project a growth in population. Property developers are very powerful, using their profits to support political parties. There is a need for houses, but there is a greater need for a clear link between the cost of housing and incomes. How do people feel when they see the 1 million-plus house? Well, in Cornwall, despite the silence, they feel increasingly desperate. They feel they are being forced out of their place; they feel as if their human rights are being violated. They have a right to choose where they live their lives, and that their choice should be the guiding principle behind public policy. They also feel that any protest will be vigorously ignored.

Sixty-eight thousand houses for Cornwall is almost double the figure which experienced Cornish planners put forward. Their original figure - about 40,000 - reflects the same levels as those advanced in previous "strategic" plans. The process - known as "trend-based projection" - is widely criticised for perpetuating trends, rather than planning for need. Just as it perpetuates population growth in Cornwall beyond the point of good environmental or economic sense, it is also responsible for the depopulation of the North, where thousands of houses stand empty.

My daughter is very worried about the orangutan and the destructive impact of loggers in the rain forest. I can see no difference between those loggers and the predatory profiteers who crowd into the offices of Cornish planning departments with ever more grandiose schemes.

Planners are only doing what they are used to doing. Cornwall concluded in the 1950s, after years of emigration, that it was under-populated and needed to attract new population to rekindle dynamism, and to make public services affordable. In the 1960s the Greater London Council got over-excited and invented "overspill". Bodmin became a social engineers' experiment. It is an excellent case-study as Cornwall faces up to overspill on an industrial scale.

Planners seem to assume that, in a world of climate change, reducing oil and new technology, everything will simply carry on as usual. Through 50 years of the Cornish Structure Plan - 50,000 houses, 38,000, houses, 42,000 houses - we've told ourselves that building thousands of houses is the path to salvation.

Planners make plans for politicians who make decisions. Politicians are elected by the people, so, therefore, logically, it's the people who decide. Have we reached a point where we simply allow what has always gone on to continue to go on because upsetting the apple cart might make too much mess? Will all our determination about climate change and oil be useless if we are unable to change direction? Do we fear the anger of vested interests for whom more of the same keeps the gravy-train on the tracks?

The planning system is a very imprecise science in which committees and inspectors (appointed by the Government) play solemnly at being Solomon, with small people doing their best to protect quiet places and big guys steam-rolling their way to profit. Much of Cornwall is, at the moment, almost totally unprotected by any sort of plan; the sharks have scented this and are homing in.

There is a growing number of people who feel disempowered. They feel that nobody cares how they feel. They say nothing. They grieve for things which they feel they have no right to expect - safety, beauty, community and friendship, courtesy. The Silent are losing faith in democracy; they feel brow-beaten and bewildered. We are failing them.

The Silent believe that nobody cares what they think so there's no point in thinking. The Silent sit before their televisions to watch Tibetan monks weep at the cruelty they suffer as a powerful State crushes their religion, destroys their intimate relationship with their land and crudely strangles their culture. The Silent in Cornwall sigh deeply, pray under their breath for the Tibetans - and await 68,000 houses.

This may be emotive claptrap. The boardrooms of Persimmon, Wain and Barretts won't tremble. Planners, patronisingly smiling, will assert that we won't house those in need unless we build all these houses for sale, to which the retort must be: "We've built thousands of houses and yet things have got worse." But what concerns me is that so many will just turn the page and sigh, thinking: "There's nothing I can do. It's all beyond my control. Nobody cares what I have to say."

Turning my back on the Olympic Games, I'll ask how the Dalai Lama spurs himself on to find a course between goodness and justice, while allowing the greatest number to be happy and free. If we're going to do climate change and oil depletion properly, we all need to come together to define new ways of tackling our economic, social and environmental challenges. The status quo is no longer defensible; 68,000 houses is neither sustainable nor defensible.

If there are so many around who feel so unvalued and so un-influential that it causes them to be silent, to appear numb and uncaring, to express nothing, then we will be weak and we will fail. We won't know what those who feel things, who use their senses to make sense, who seek happiness in quiet, unflamboyant ways which truly encourage liberty, brotherhood and equality, need to achieve fulfilment, either as individuals or as our community.

It should and must be the challenge of institutions to find ways and means of liberating the voices of The Silent, and of bringing them in to the debate about tomorrow and tomorrow's world - it is The Silent who know the answers and who will deliver the solutions.



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 Pythias, a Greek traveller, wrote about the Cornwall tin: "The tin traders at Land's End in Cornwall.... win tin by handling the ore with great knowledge. They than cast it in cubics and bring it to an island just offshore called 'Ictus'. Foreign traders buy it there to bring it to Gaul".  

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