By Julia Penhaligon
Campaigners are expected to gather at County Hall, Truro, this morning (Tuesday) to protest at what they describe as the “over-development” of Cornwall.
The demonstration has been planned for more than a month, and is to protest at what the campaigners say is the “destruction” of the Cornish countryside by planners, and property developers.
The demo is supported by a group calling itself Cornish Solidarity. More than 9,000 people have signed its online petition calling on almost everyone – planners, developers, inspectors, councillors and Members of Parliament – to resign.
At the same time, an extraordinary meeting of Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee will elect a chair – having not met at all since 2nd May. The committee is now likely to meet only six times a year, while some councillors continue to call for it to be scrapped.
Favourite to the get the job is Truro Liberal Democrat councillor Dulcie Tudor. She also works for the Cornwall Community Land Trust, which provides sites for development, and she already chairs the “stakeholder panel” overseeing the controversial proposals to build a series of huge housing estates at Langarth, Threemilestone. Should she succeed this morning, she will become one of County Hall’s more powerful voices in Cornwall’s planning and development sector.
Meanwhile, Cornwall Council’s chief executive Kate Kennally has chosen this week to celebrate County Hall’s own ambitions to become a large-scale property developer by publishing an article in Inside Housing:
Inside Housing is publishing a number of articles this month to mark the 100th anniversary of the Addison Act – which paved the way for large-scale council housebuilding.
This year is the centenary of the first national council housebuilding programme. The Addison Act, named after the then-minister for health and housing Lord Christopher Addison, aspired to create 500,000 new homes for working families or – as they were often termed given their timing in history – “homes fit for heroes”.
Only ever designed to be a temporary intervention while the market stabilised, this and subsequent inter-war housing acts ended up producing more than 1.1 million council homes for families in need.
There is plenty to celebrate about this ground-breaking act: it thrust local housing authorities to the forefront of housing delivery, it made a clear connection between the quality of housing and the health of residents, and it replaced overcrowded slums with high-quality, light, spacious homes.
More importantly, this 100th anniversary provides an opportunity for reflection, to consider whether we need a new ‘21st century Addison approach’, as well as what opportunities we have – particularly as local housing authorities working with partners – to intervene in and shape the market for new homes.
The need for affordable, high-quality homes is as real today as it was 100 years ago, with a recent estimate that 340,000 new homes are needed each year, of which 145,000 should be affordable.
This is the challenge to which councils must rise, as the democratic voice of residents and in their role as community leaders.
In Cornwall, we are investing £200m in a programme to deliver 1,000 homes, with a deliberate focus on market-rented housing.
We are providing well-designed homes built to a high-quality and energy-efficient standard, with the security of five-year tenancies.
“Cornwall Council has taken the view that if the market cannot deliver then we must step in”
Like other councils, we are also taking advantage of the lifting of the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap with 400 new social rented homes in the pipeline and plans being worked up for many more.
These programmes are on top of our partnerships with housing associations, which we directly grant funding, complementing that from Homes England.
Cornwall Council has taken the view that if the market cannot deliver then we have an imperative to step in. However, supply is only part of the story.
As part of a united ‘Team Cornwall’ approach, the council is uniquely placed to support the most vulnerable residents in our communities, from Gypsies and Travellers to rough sleepers and people with care and support needs.
In Cornwall, despite a 43% reduction in rough sleeping over the past two years, we still have many people sleeping rough. Over the next two years, we want to position ourselves so we can always offer a solution and nobody will need to sleep rough.
This is a challenging aim, but one that will secure benefits for the individual and our wider communities.
Similarly, we are commissioning 800 extra-care homes that better reflect our older population’s aspirations for accommodation. Later this year, we will open our first Gypsy and Traveller transit site.
Furthermore, we have embedded housing services in our approach to health and social care integration, and we are already beginning to see the benefits of this collaboration across these sectors.
“If we cannot get it right for our most vulnerable residents, we are unlikely to get it right for residents more generally”
All of this means taking difficult, sometimes contentious decisions. But if we cannot get it right for our most vulnerable residents, we are unlikely to get it right for residents more generally.
Next month, we are celebrating 100 years of council housing in the company of 100 tenants, who will be attending the official opening of the same number of new Cornwall Council-provided homes!
Looking to the future, I encourage councils to be brave and bold in our collective efforts. At the end of the day, we are in the business of going beyond simply building bricks and mortar. We are creating homes that offer security and stability and allow families to thrive.
There can be no greater incentive to deliver for residents than that.
You can follow our journey to the centenary in our blog.
Kate Kennally, chief executive, Cornwall Council