Saturday, 27 August 2011

Cornish unionists for recognition, some thoughts

It has come to my attention that a new facebook group has been started titled "Cornish pride, Cornish recognition", the info page explains:

Cornish Unionists for Recognition Action Group. (CUFRAG)
We are a non-political pressure group, campaigning for the Recognition of Cornwall as a Nation of Great Britain, within the United Kingdom.
Our aim is to obtain status as a Nation that enables our sporting teams and individuals to compete in the international arena.
We would also like to be able to say that we are Cornish, for example, in Census Returns or on Official Paperwork.
We do not promote the Cornish Language.
We do not promote Devolution in Cornwall.
We do not promote Independence.
We are not anti-English.  link to page

This is an interesting development, it certainly is not my cup of tea, I am a Cornish nationalist and a member of Mebyon Kernow, I believe wholeheartedly that Cornwall would be better served by devolution in the form of a Cornish Assembly. On the issue of Cornish independence I am actually unclear, I am more than willing to give devolution a try and see how that goes for the mean time. As to Kernewek I believe strongly in the promotion of it and I do believe school children should be given the choice to learn the Cornish language in schools. In a multi-lingual education environment, there is room for our language to take a place amongst French, German and Spanish at the very least.

That said, I welcome the move to broaden the debate about the recognition of Cornish national identity. There is no reason why Cornish identity should be solely agitated for by nationalists. Being Cornish does not mean people are not and can not be proud of the EU, UK or Britain. Recognition of the Cornish people as a distinct nation from the English does not entail immediate devolution or independence, it is a wholly separate issue to Cornwall's place within the UK. This is a point I explored in my blog about the Cornish 2nd National Minority Report, where I explained about cross party support for Cornish legal recognition, link here.

I believe the facebook group was started by a guy called Martin Noye who blogs here: well worth a read. Also he was the one who started the e petition to recognise Cornish identity, which if you haven't signed it please do.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Olympic non jobs, payment cards and a lack of scrutiny at Cornwall Council and Cornwall Development Company

Following on from yesterday's news (my blog about it here) about the Olympic non job paid for by Cornwall Council. It emerges that the post was not £19,689 per annum as everyone assumed from this advert:
But instead £19,689 pro rata so actually just £13,126 for the whole contract. As Andrew Wallis revealed on his updated blog 20k for one day's work (updated).

I still believe criticisms made by myself and others are still valid, there is no need for this position and existing staff could easily do the work involved. It also reveals something of a trend within Cornwall Council which has spilt over to it's 'company' Cornwall Development Company (CDC) and that is the council has no idea where money is being spent. For some reason Malcolm Bell head of Visit Cornwall (itself a subsidiary of CDC) a man presumably in the know on this subject, told the Daily Mail:

"But Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, told MailOnline that the council was expecting revenue of at least £1million and maybe up to £7million with an influx of visitors to the town.
He said it would spend £100,00 on the event, which included the wage of the new employee."

link to story

Malcolm Bell on a happier news day
So if this post was indeed half the actual salary advertised why didn't Malcolm Bell flag this up when interviewed by the Mail? This man is in charge of attracting visitors to Cornwall and spends taxpayers money to do so, the only possible answer is he did not know. For some inexplicable reason he was not aware how much money was going on the post and probably read the advert and took it it was accurate as did everyone else. This poses serious questions about the council (and it's subsidiary organisations) and how they spend money and how this process is monitored and scrutinized.

In the light of the credit card scandal a few months ago a pattern of spending apathy and abject lack of scrutiny is emerging from Lys Kernow. For those that missed the story the Telegraph published a story based on an FOI request that revealed Cornwall Council had spent nearly 8 million pounds on credit card transactions from the Telegraph. The original  press release about it from Cornwall Council explained that foreign spending had been divulged to the Telegraph in the original currencies and not converted to the sterling equivalent (not a great example of keeping a check on spending). Alec Robinson commented with a rather bland, unfactual statement:

"Cornwall Council is committed to achieving the best possible value for money for council tax payers in Cornwall... All spending, including credit card spending, is very closely monitored and strict financial controls are in place."
link to the statement

Alec Robertson Conservative leader Cornwall Council
Clearly again even the leader of the council has no real idea about what was spent and only know's what a reassuring statement looks like. It turned out later, when people actually bothered to look at the spending figures that the information supplied to the Telegraph was wrong in parts. Alec lambasted the Telegraph in a letter titled  When did FOI Become Freedom of Misinformation? link hereI can't find any reply from the Telegraph but I assume the answer was when you send us the wrong information. Amusingly Alec criticises the Telegraph for wrongly identifying the payment card system used as credit cards, see his comment above where he also makes the same mistake. It took from the 28th May to the 20th June for the Council to investigate fully the card spending and Alec to pen his diatribe, again a damning indictment of the spending regime at Cornwall Council. It is unacceptable that any organisation should need nearly a month to check what they have spent vast amounts of public money on.

Both in the case of Malcolm Bell and Alec Robertson they need to start doing their jobs properly and actually taking charge of how taxpayers money is spent in Cornwall. It is unforgivable that neither has a clue what money is spent on when asked by the press, their jobs are to spend taxpayers money properly, it is a bare minimum they have a close eye on this. How can we take austerity and cuts budgets seriously from people who have no idea about spending existing at County Hall?  Eric Pickles wants to come to Cornwall if he thinks wayward spending  in local authorities is something immune to Conservative administrations.

As a side point, anybody care to guess why the council needs to spend the remaining one hundred thousand pounds on promoting the Olympic Torch's journey through Kernow.

Monday, 22 August 2011

ditch the Cornwall Council Olympic relay non job and spend the money....

I read with horror that Cornwall Council's quango Cornwall Development Company is hiring someone to promote the Olympics in Cornwall. Well I say in Olympics in Cornwall, what I mean is the day long torch passing through our fair Duchy. Being a Cornwall Council office job the salary is par for the course (cheap in Lavery terms) 20k for '6 months' work, eye watering for the rest of us. I had a quick look through the job description on the CDC website, basically project management, traffic plans, promotion, marketing, raising the profile of Cornwall and the Olympics blah blah blah. Thinking about it logically, the Olympic torch passing through Cornwall is not exactly the kind of thing that will go unnoticed, it's hard to imagine how a press conference and the obligatory twitter and facebook accounts will really help to raise the profile either of Cornwall or the torch, besides how much would it cost to run them for six months? Traffic management etc (the routes already been agreed as I understand it) is not exactly hard either, I am sure the police will be more than happy to assist and I assume people in the council's transport department will too. What I am getting at is we need not waste all this money. Could it not be better spent?

So it came to mind that people on the Isles of Scilly have started a campaign to get the Olympic Torch relay to embark from there not Land's End. So I think this twenty thousand pound would more than pay for this to be put into place. Why not utilise existing resources and staff as Andrew Wallis (on his blog) and Alex Folkes (on his blog) have both argued. Instead use the money for something good, to get the Olympic torch to Scilly. It would be a great boost for the Islands (and for Cornwall) and a good show of Cornish- Scillonian friendship.

Story about the Olympic torch campaign on Scilly Today: Not too late to include Scilly in Olympic's Torch relay
The Facebook campaign: Bring the London 2012 Torch Relay to Scilly.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cornish hospital chief unfairly dismissed but cancer services not to change, madness!

Heard the news on the radio yesterday that the old CEO of NHS Cornwall has successfully sued the NHS for unfair dismissal, John Watkinson was awarded £1.2 million as a result. He opposed the move of upper gastro-intestinal cancer services outside of Cornwall in principle and believed that legally there needed to be a public consultation. So the point has been conceded and he was right, they sacked him because he didn't agree with their centralising agenda. I waited to hear if there was more to the story, specifically if the move of cancer services would be reversed, but no. So in effect John Watkinson has received £1.2 million, the trust has spent nearly £400,000 and the people of Cornwall are left in the same position as before. The original argument was that survival rates would be better if the service moved, a point heavily contested.

I believe considering the geography of Cornwall and the amount of people here, the move of any hospital services out of Cornwall is to the detriment of Cornish people. People like me who live in Penzance face a hard enough journey getting to Truro to go to Treliske hospital (24.9 miles, 37 minute bar journey according to google maps it can take longer and believe me feels like an age when your wife is in labour). Penzance isn't the furthest west in Cornwall, or the most inaccessible place. Below are some of the distance travelled to hospital in south and west Cornwall.

Travel times by car to Treliske hospital (according to google maps):

Zennor: 27.3 miles, 42 minutes
St Just in Penwith/ Pendeen: 32.4 miles, 49 minutes
Sennen Cove: 33.9 miles, 53 minutes
St Buryan: 30.7 miles, 48 minutes
Penzance: 24.9 miles, 37 minutes 
Rosudgeon: 24.3 miles, 37 minutes
Porthleven: 23.6 miles, 40 minutes
Lizard: 28.8 miles, 49 minutes
Coverack: 26.1 miles, 50 minutes
St Keverne 26.2 miles, 51 minutes
Helston: 18.1 miles, 36 minutes

So at a guess we have about an average of 45 minutes-in good traffic-for the people of west Cornwall to make it to Cornwall's only major hospital at Treliske Truro. Is this too far for people to travel for cancer treatment? after all once we add on the parking and getting to a department it's going to probably be over an hour. I think it is it's already an unnecessary strain on people who are already suffering. So anyway this was the previous system for upper GI care (also this is the distance to the only major casualty department, fully staffed maternity service amongst other things.) But the powers that be decided to move it to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, so in effect all of Cornwall's near 600,000 residents now have to travel outside Cornwall for this type of care. So let's have a look at the distances and times with the new service:

Travel times by car to Derriford hospital (according to google maps):

Zennor: 79.8 miles, 1 hour 48 minutes. (to Treliske 27.3 miles, 42 minutes)
St Just in Penwith/ Pendeen: 84.9 miles, 1 hour 55 minutes (32.4 miles, 49 minutes)
Sennen Cove: 86.3 miles 1 hour 59 minutes (33.9 miles, 53 minutes)
St Buryan: 83.1 miles, 1 hour 54 minutes (30.7 miles, 48 minutes)
Penzance: 77.4 miles, 1 hour 44 minutes (24.9 miles, 37 minutes )
Rosudgeon: 76.7 miles, 1 hour 43 minutes (24.3 miles, 37 minutes)
Porthleven: 76 miles, 1 hour 47 minutes (3.6 miles, 40 minutes)
Lizard: 82.3 miles, 1 hour 58 minutes (28.8 miles, 49 minutes)
Coverack: 79.5 miles, 2 hours 1 minute (26.1 miles, 50 minutes)
St Keverne 79.7 miles, 2 hours 2 minutes (26.2 miles, 51 minutes)
Helston: 71.1 miles, 1 hour 42 minutes (18.1 miles, 36 minutes)

I despair at the state of society and healthcare in Cornwall, when we are asking really sick people to travel for over another hour each way, to get the care treatment they need and indeed pay taxes for. So a tribunal has decided that Watkinson was unfairly dismissed for acting as a whistleblower for the move of cancer services, they agree this that much they have awarded him a large slice of cash (unfortunately coming out of the already stretched budget). So distance is factor not in the best interests of the patient, widespread public opposition, no public consultation, the tribunal seems to agree moving the services was wrong. So we might conclude the government would see sense and reverse the decision, maybe at last we might see some substance to this localism spiel? alas no. An 'independent' panel (independent of public consultation and decmocratic accountability apparently) agreed with the move and Andrew Lansley rubber stamped it. Yet another example of Devonwall and the centralisation of services and jobs east of the Tamar, undermining the Cornish economy and reducing services for the Cornish people. When will see any benefit to localism? When will the need of Cornish cancer patients become a priority?

For more on the subject read the BBC Cornwall's report on the outcome of the tribunal here.
To read my blog on the chronic underfunding of the Cornish NHS here.
If you want to e mail your MP about this click here

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Council tax: I am Spartacus! but not brave just forgetful

I should probably be putting the boot in to Cornwall Councillors from other parties on this but no...

I have read with interest the growing story about Cornwall Councillors who have been late paying council tax bills. The Packet broke the story after a FOI request, 17 councillors have received one reminder and 14 of these have received a second reminder and 1 has been threatened with court action. Various stories from the Packet here and here, Graham Smith got in on the action , as the url suggests imploring councillors to come forward before they found out by other means. I understand the logic that those who sit on an authority should lead by example and pay their bills on time but I can't help disagreeing.

We live in a society where everyone pays bills late, companies pay suppliers at the last possible opportunity. Anybody due a rebate from Revenue and Customs will know this is not an exactly swift process. I am often late paying my council tax,  I imagine a large number of rate payers in Cornwall have paid bills late and I am not exactly sure this is illegal. As far as I am concerned if you settle your bill in the end, it doesn't really matter.

What also concerns me is not only the issue and whether we should vilify councillors? but why this attention?Yesterday train fares went up 8% and Cornwall Council wants to reduce bus subsidies, food banks in Cornwall are reporting they can't cope with demand and the council have cut their budget for helping homeless people. There's a lot of great stories such as these that need talking about and that Cornish society needs to address, such as the cost of public transport and homelessness. There is a real culture throughout the UK media of focussing upon FOI requests and their results. Journalists keen to find the next wasteful council or civil service exec who flies first class or hospital who buys expensive bread. Don't get me wrong we need to address opulence by the civil service elites, but when did everything become about money? Am I the only one who wants to talk about principles? I believe the media should hold the powers that be to account, but not as accountants, let's talk about policy.

For the record the 2 councillors who have come forward are Ann Kerridge (Lib Dem Bodmin) she gave a statment on Graham Smith's blog titled he who is without sin cast the first stone, (I take from that Graham always pays his bills on time)
And Andrew Wallis (Indy, Helston South/ Porthleven) whose blog is here: transparency begins with oneself

Monday, 15 August 2011

Cornwall and the blight of second homes

Second homes are a real blight on communities across Cornwall as elsewhere, housing stock lies idle for the vast majority of the year and as a consequence that community dies one empty property at a time. Without full times residents, villages and towns with second homes soon turn into ghost towns, when there is no one there year round to shop in the post office, drink in the pub, and attend the schools and churches/ chapels these facilities soon close. There is need of them, these symbols of the community become redundant and soon too does the community itself and it just becomes an empty cluster of houses, devoid of life and absent in function save for a few weekends a year. This has a wider impact, when the amount of residents becomes fewer and fewer, the need for a bus service lessens and will eventually drop completely effecting nearby communities on the bus route too. In the community itself assets are stripped as they become redundant and save for the odd workman that has to come by once in a while and do some maintenance that village soon becomes economically stagnant, fewer people work there and fewer people have money to spend there.

Obviously the much wider problem is that of artificially inflating house prices, second home buyers increase demand which increases the price. So the fashionable weekend retreats such as Rock, Fowey, Helford, Mousehole start to have higher and higher house prices. As a consequence local people that want to live in these places become less and less able too, combined with the decay brought on by empty non-residential properties, there are less jobs as well. Without being able to earn a living there or afford a house they then move somewhere else. This has been evident in Cornwall through the last decade or so, whereby house prices in inland (less desirable to moneyed urbanites) have started to increase with the demand from people displaced from the 'rural idylls'. In effect the problem like a virus has spread, started in coastal and rural communities now encompassing Cornwall. Take for example my street in Penzance (St James street), small houses (mostly 2 bedroom) built around 1900, no parking, no gardens, hardly prime properties by anyone's standard. According to the website the average sale price on this street in 2000 was £57,000, 2001: £66,161, 2002: £77,322, 2003: £116,500, 2004: £119,400, 2005: £152,475, 2006: £142,750, 2007: £149,250, 2008: £164,000, 2009: £143,916, 2010 £141,600. So to buy my house in 2000 was £57,000 now £141,600 (link to the page), more than double what it was ten years ago, yet wages have not doubled and it is impossible to comprehend these rises without looking at factors such as second homes. Even with the recent recession and fall in employment and stagnation in wages, house prices have not significantly dropped. The demand has increased largely due to second homes, estimates on the number of second homes in Cornwall vary between 6% and 10%, Cornwall Council figures suggest there are 14,000 second homes in Cornwall. Compared to the number of people on housing registers in Cornwall 18,000 we start to uncover why we have such a housing problem in Cornwall.

So what can we do about 2nd homes in Cornwall?

Abolish second home discounts:
Cornish councillors recently unanimously backed a motion to abolish the council tax discount for second homes, currently they pay 90%. Not that long ago it was 50%, based on the idea that the house used less services as vacant, partly true but I am sure nobody would want their house being burgled or burning down and half or 90% of the usual police force or fire brigade turning up. I think the idea is that the council will make more money from these properties and will serve as a deterrent to second home buyers. Although I doubt it will, if you have say between three hundred thousand pounds and 2 million to spend on a house used occasionally, then a couple hundred quid a month would be like a drop of water in the Atlantic.

Stop second home owners pretending to run their houses as a business:
At the end of the last Labour government, they did float the idea of tightening up the rules of what constituted a business and presumably dropped it after middle England read about it. At the moment you can in effect pretend that a 2nd home is a business, taking advantage of various rate relief schemes designed to help bed and breakfasts etc. So you could buy a nice house in Polzeath rent it out once or twice to friends, then purport to be a loss making business and in effect get the taxpayer to subsidise your weekend retreat. I think this should be tightened up upon, I do think it's fair that genuine businesses can claim rate relief if they run at a loss and/ or to encourage them to invest in assets. As with everything tax, a decent accountant can find a workaround, so solving the problem would be difficult and ultimately this is just a nice sideline and wouldn't stop the ultra-rich buying a second home.

Ban new second homes when 5% of that area is already non-residential
This idea comes from Dick Cole, leader of Mebyon Kernow in his own words:
We need far-reaching reforms to the planning system and the introduction of controls to reverse both the spread and number of second homes. Planning permission should be needed before homes can be turned into part-time residences, so that councillors have the ability to say no.

Mebyon Kernow believes that if more than 5% of the housing stock in a particular settlement and/or parish are second homes, there should also be an automatic ban on any new ones. And in such areas, properties used as second homes coming onto the market should only be allowed to be sold for use as permanent dwellings.
I think this is a good idea, for too long councils in Cornwall have stood idly by whilst second homes have multiplied in our communities. They need to start representing the people of Cornwall better, there is very little appetite here in Cornwall for second homes, democratically Cornwall Council should reflect this and take action.

Change in attitudes:
Above are listed many reasons why outsiders but holiday homes in Kernow, but the problem is not just of outsiders. Keen for money, many Cornish people have sold their houses in the knowledge that it will go to a second home owner. So too Cornish estate agents are more than willing to encourage 2nd home ownership, what's the point of selling to a local family on minimum wage when  a lot of money can be made from rich up country folk? I do not think either position is socially responsible, I understand the desire for money (I'd own my own house if I was rich) but at what cost is this profiteering to the people of Cornwall?

The reason I was spurned to write this blogpost today was after reading an article in the Independent link here, which really surprised me. I naively though that this left wing paper would champion social responsibility and the plight of the common man. But no true to the form of many champagne socialists they have written a long piece on the virtue of holiday home ownership in Cornwall, the benefits of the 'riveria' retreat and the investment opportunities etc. These are also attitudes that need confronting, it is quite common for lot's of London newspapers to market Cornish homes as if they were stocks and share or permanent hotel rooms with no though to the consequence to the people that actually live here.

Both internally and externally we need to change attitudes to second home ownership, both to bolster support for abolition of the council tax discount and introducing change of use in the planning system. But also to encourage people not to do it, to show outsiders that we have lots of lovely hotels in Cornwall and there are alternatives to buying a large house for occasional use. To convince house sellers that it is better for Cornwall, the Cornish economy and communities to not sell to people who want second homes. To convince estate agents that selling to local who needs a house is better for our economy and as a consequence the property business. I think we could introduce a bold policy decisions to second homes, Cornwall Council could in theory issue compulsory purchase orders for second homes and effectively turf people out. But I do not think this would be a good thing to do, I do not believe that the state should have these sort of powers, so we must concentrate on persuasion.

I am convinced that second homes are definitely a bad thing, I think there are legislative solutions to ease the problems which are already being proposed, but I am not sure this is enough. What we need is a change in attitudes , I am not sure how we can do this? any suggestions leave them below....

Friday, 12 August 2011

Cornwall and the Cornish on the governments e-petitions site

On the governments e-petitions site there are two Cornwall/ Cornish related petitions that have caught my eye. Firstly Recognition of Cornwall as a national minority and secondly Establishment of a Cornish assembly. Do get people to read them and sign them, talk to your friends and family about them and share on the internet. As with other petitions hundred thousand UK citizens/ residents are required to sign to trigger a debate by MPs. If a UK resident/ citizen, please do sign it only takes a second.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Penzance parking an update

Following on from my last blog about PZ parking link here, there have been some recent developments across Cornwall. Firstly is was revealed by the BBC's Graham Smith that Tregantle car park in Torpoint has seen a sharp fall in parking revenues after recent fee hikes by Cornwall Council see Graham's blog here. Also in Liskeard local groups and councillors are recommending a £2 all day charge in one car park and £1 for two hours nearer the town centre; see the article on This is Cornwall here.

Here too in Penzance there has been action, I am loathe to support the Liberal Democrats in this, I still haven't forgiven them for the imposition of unitary and the abolishing of district councils nor forgiven them for Devonwall but this is for the good of Penzance. The PZ Lib Dems have set up a Facebook group calling for Fairer Parking Charges for Penzance and an online petition too link here. I still reserve my criticisms that these proposals do not go far enough, but still do support them and show the Conservative- Independent coalition on Cornwall Council that Penzance has had enough of this.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Affordable housing and the government's new equity loan scheme a Penzance perspective

Although for donkey's years politicians of every London based party have promised action on affordable housing in Cornwall, none has been forthcoming. Houses in Cornwall are unaffordable to those people that earn the average Cornish wage. If you are looking for a definition of what is unaffordable, scroll through the jobs section of say the Cornishman and note the average wage then scroll through the property section and note the average house price and you'll have some idea what unaffordable is and the situation faced by many in Kernow.
Artists impression of development in Carharrack

So the other day I heard an advert on Pirate FM for the governments new scheme to help first time buyers and I thought great my little family could try that. We rent at the moment and we would like somewhere with a garden for the children and parking would be good too. At our last house the landlord decided to sell up after we had been there a year, so we had to move and we don't want to be in this situation again, especially not with young children. The problem we have faced so far for buying is both getting a deposit together and affording a mortgage that would actually buy a 2 bedroom house, let alone anything else. So the government scheme promises an equity loan (without fees for 5 years) for up to 30% of the value of the property. To qualify your household income has to be less than 60k a year (my wife and I don't earn half that), you have to be unable to afford a house in your area (no problems there then) and you either have to be first time buyers or renting a council or housing association house. Good it sounds promising or so I thought. Then came up to the first problem, for some reason -of which I can't fathom- the money can only be used for specific new builds. So the money can not be used to buy any old house and so the options begin to narrow.

The system is managed by private companies, a firm called South West Homes covers Cornwall and a quick property search reveals that there are a number of properties available under the search term Cornwall West + 2 bed, incidentally the same properties for the 'First Buy' equity loan are the same as those offered for the part rent part buy scheme. There are 8 options, 3 sites to choose from in Camborne, 1 in St Ives, 1 in Sennen, 1 in Porthleven, 1 in Manaccan and 1 in Carharrack. Now herein lies the problem there are none at all in Penzance. Further all the developments are quite rightly designed to fill a local need, so for St Ives priority is given to those with a strong connection with the St Ives, Towednack and Zennor parishes, Porthleven is the same with that parish and neighbouring parishes and the same is true of all of them. So if you live in Penzance not only can you not buy a 2 bed property in the town but you will be at a disadvantage unless you have connections with other parishes.
2 bedroom house in Manaccan

A 3 bedroom search of Cornwall West provides some of the same results (on the same housing estates) but also includes a property in Fowey, quite a wide interpretation of West Cornwall by anyone's standard. There are 10 available sites, the same Sennen, St Ives, Porthleven, Carharrack and Camborne estates as before. The 3 bedrooms not previously mentioned include another St Ives estate, St Erth, Hayle, Fowey and another Camborne development, the St Erth development has so far been the closest to Penzance (about 7 miles), but  for the St Erth development a local connection to St Erth is required. The Hayle development isn't so fussy about a local connection. The 3 bed in St Ives is less specific, simply stating a local connection.
The 3 bedroom house in St Ives

So for most of the properties a local connection is a problem, which is difficult if you do not have family scattered all over the place. Say for example all your family live in Penzance you would not be a priority, similarly if your family live in Gulval/ Newlyn/ Mousehole/ St Buryan etc and you live in Penzance no luck either. Personally my problem is I want to live in Penzance, I like it here, my daughter will be going to school here soon and my wife works in town.Which leads me to wonder how many other people are in the same situation as we are?

In conclusion, the new equity based scheme is a step in the right direction, it does give first time buyers a help with the high costs of house buying and I for one welcome it. However, my personal reservations I am sure are shared by many in my situation who want to live in Penzance and others who want to live in Newlyn or Helston and no end of places in West Cornwall. It is regrettable that the equity loan scheme is not transferable to older houses as this would allow the flexibility to give people in areas without developments a chance to benefit from this scheme.

If you are eligible for one of the developments I have discussed please do go on to Direct Gov to read more about the scheme here: Equity Loans -how they work and the South West Homes website for specific details of houses in Cornwall: Property search page and I wish you the best of luck.
(all pictures taken from South West Homes website).

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Some action on Penzance parking at last! but is it enough?

Ruth Lewarne on Lannoweth Road, illustrating the problem

Something has kicked some life into Penzance's three Liberal Democrat councillors, since the election in 2009, I haven't had a single leaflet and it has been very hard to ascertain what they are exactly doing. But in the last week with much fanfare Ruth Lewarne (councillor for my ward, Penzance East) Tamsin Williams (Penzance central) and Mario Fonks (Gulval and Heamoor) have organised a campaign for fairer parking for the town. They wish to reduce the first hour parking rate in line with other Cornwall Council car parks in other towns and make it free to park after 4pm. More later on these plans, but do sign the petition if you can Cornwall Council needs to listen on this one, (can't find it online)

I must say I have a few vested interests here I live in the center of Penzance (PZ East) and parking is a nightmare and the problem is getting worse as time goes on. At the last council election I voted for Ruth Lewarne, for a number of reasons; there was no Mebyon Kernow candidate, she was the candidate who live the nearest to Penzance; Heamoor, (Labour was from Newlyn and an Independent from St Hilary (there were also Tory and UKIP candidates). So I had some bias towards her and she was the only candidate to specifically mention the parking problem in Penzance and promised action on this. I have been a little disappointed subsequently that nothing has been forthcoming.

Since the election in 2009 the problem has got significantly worse, perhaps dues to the recession or rise in parking fees more and more people are deserting car parks in favour of street parking. The result of this is that Penzance's car parks are barely ever full. Part of me sympathises with this position: why pay to park when you can park for free? But as a result trying to get parked anywhere near our house is a real problem and some days we are lucky to park on our own street, which is annoying when its raining and we have to walk for five minutes carrying our young children.

Adding to the problem of people looking for alternatives for car parks is the fact Cornwall Council are increasingly looking to traffic wardens and parking fines as a source of revenue. A few years ago there was one traffic warden who patrolled our street, he'd pop by every wednesday afternoon. My street; St James Street like adjacent streets has legal parking one side and illegal daytime parking the other (mon-sat 8-6). So except 'traffic warden day' you could park either side and there was not much of a problem, but then the council employed another traffic warden and since then they do daily checks. As we found out parking on the wrong side of the road -not blocking the road at all- lands the driver with a £35 fine. In effect now all the people that would park both sides of this street and other streets are all looking to park in the half the spaces that were available! It's now a complete nightmare, seldom can you leave a parking space during the day without one, sometimes two cars waiting to park in the space you were in.

So I welcome (at last) some action on this problem by Penzance's Lib Dem trio, but I do not think the proposals go far enough. For a start parking after 4 PM is less of an issue the traffic warden has usually gone home by then and the number of shoppers and workers in town has decreased. I do not think the first hour parking fee is such an issue (it should of course be the same as the rest of Cornwall), a lot of people that park here, shop for longer than an hour in town or work in Penzance and are parked here all day so I think lower first hour charges wouldn't effect much.

I am actually surprised that the Liberal Democrat proposals are not more radical, the increases in council car parks by the Conservative and Independent coalition on Cornwall Council are not helping Cornish town centres one bit. Here in Penzance as elsewhere there are empty shops, what is needed is a radical reduction in parking fees across the Duchy. Also the proposed slashing of funding public transport, which will inevitably result in routes ceasing and passenger numbers falling, needs to be stopped. The council needs to start seeing itself  more as a provider of public services and less like a business. What Penzance needs, is cheaper car parking and credible alternatives to car travel such as public transport.

If I was given the choice I would trial slashing Penzance's car parking fees by half including season tickets, this would encourage people back into the town centre for shopping and encourage workers to park in car parks. More realistic parking fees would increase usage of car parks and help reduce the effect of loss of revenue from fees. The enforcement of parking fines and no parking zones needs to be more sensible, streets such as mine are wide enough for parking either side and traffic as wide as lorries to negotiate. Parking tickets in a residential area like this are unjustified and have not had the desired effect of getting more cars into car parks. For the sake of Penzance town centre and the town's residents I hope the powers that be in Truro will see some common sense and realise that we need more carrot in Penzance and less stick!

For more see Shock Rise in Parking Fines for Penzance 
Cornwall Council car-parks shunned as soaring costs bite
Unfairly High Car Parking Charges are Killing Off Trade

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Penzance harbour and why Alec Robertson says one thing and does another

I read with interest Alex Folke's blog about Cornwall Council's latest press release, recognising the councils work as being one of the most creative councils in the country. As the great leader Alec Robertson proclaims:
“As Eric Pickles recognised earlier this year we are a “can do” council which has never been afraid to do things differently” 
“Our proposal involves working with communities to improve their local areas by making change happen. Rather than imposing solutions, we want to support local people to work with us to identify and then solve the problems they face. We will then work with them to develop the best ideas and create business plans around their proposed solutions”.
Alex goes on to note that this lacks clarity and is hardly innovative, I can only agree with Alex on this, click this link for his blog.

But to look past the fluff and lack of plain English and the obvious congratulatory attitude between Pickles and Robertson, are these words really true? As someone who has lived in Penzance through the Penzance harbour fiasco and various attempts to impose the Option A solution on Penzance against local opposition, it is clear that Tory led Cornwall Council has no idea how to work with local people. In fact quite the opposite, when opposition was met to their proposals at every juncture the council became more combative. Relations between Cornwall councillors and Penzance groups became shall we say hostile? with opposition groups trading insults with councillors over who was more like various Nazis (no I am not joking). The upshot of it all was that the residents of Penzance chose sides, were divided by council threats to move the Scilly ferry to Falmouth.  Clearly this is a textbook example of how a council should not interact with residents and is in fact a textbook example of imposing solutions and not supporting local people.

I don't think anyone in Penzance for or against Option A would agree that Robertson worked with the local community in PZ, which leads me to ponder, would anyone in Cornwall agree with Alec Robertson's fluff? 
Would the people of the Clay Country agree that solutions were not imposed upon them? Did they feel that the incinerator was a result of a collaboration between themselves and Cornwall Council? I doubt it. 

For background on the Penzance Harbour fiasco I recommend this Cornish Zetetics blogpost.

Karin Schepers, demonstrates the need for emergency tugs in Cornwall

Barely 24 hours ago (early hours 3/8/11) a German owned vessel called the Karin Schepers ran aground near Cape Cornwall. Fortunately no one was injured and the 9,000 ton container ship was undamaged, miraculously the ship avoided the jagged rocks of the West Penwith coast and ran aground on a sandy beach. Certainly it would have been a different story had the ship struck the rocks, now at the very best we would be clearing up pollution and at the very worst who knows?

This incident goes to show that even in the best of conditions the shipping lanes around Cornwall are a very dangerous place. This should serve as a wake up call for the government to start taking maritime safety seriously, we can easily imagine why Mike Penning (minister responsible for shipping) has no idea about maritime matters, I would probably be the same if I lived in Hemel Hempstead (where he is MP). Similarly too with the Transport Minister Philip Hammond in his inland Surrey constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. They have no idea about why maritime safety is so important and is why they are planning on slashing Coastguard stations and withdrawing funding for the Emergency Tug Vessels (ETVs). I just hope that both of them have read about this case and realised that Emergency Tugs are essential when we have such large ships in Cornish waters. (It was not needed but the Anglian Princess was tasked to assist with re-floating the German container ship, certainly if the tide had not been so favourable this would have been necessary. Also if she had struck rocks the Anglian Princess would have been essential to salvage the vessel and/ or start cleaning up the pollution.)

The Anglian Princess, note the new darker colour scheme

As I have written before the Anglian Princess is essential to assist ships and boats in distress at sea. This is a service that might seem like figures on paper to Penning and Hammond, but if they lived by the sea and were responsible to constituents in coastal communities they would think these things through more carefully.

For more information, there's an article about the beaching of the Karin Schepers on the excellent Cornwall Community News site:  with some great pics of the incident too.
My earlier blog Scrapping Coastguard tugs is the Government Oblivious to Maritime Safety?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Mudhook totally wrong on Mebyon Kernow and localism

This blog is essentially in response to a post by another blogger, but serves to illustrate and clarify Mebyon Kernow's policies toward giving power back to local communities within Cornwall... I sometimes read Mudhook's blog, perhaps this is a little strange for a Mebyon Kernow member as Mudhook does like to denigrate the party and it's principles. Perhaps I am a little masochistic, (much like the left wingers who revel in reading the Daily Mail) or perhaps it's because sometimes he has something useful to say. Unfortunately he (I assume it's a he) doesn't allow comments on his blog, so you can't fully interact with his content and arguments. This is regrettable because I often think he misrepresents Mebyon Kernow, for example recently he blogged about discrepancies within Cornwall in terms of education attainment; The Parts of Cornwall and forms part of his wider argument on the subject, to quote:
"Nevertheless, the differences are startling and I repeat again that Cornwall is not one place; there are many Cornwalls. We must learn from the most successful and target intervention where it is needed. It does not usually make sense to see Cornwall as one uniform place, as nationalism tends to do; and it is not sensible to have countywide policies which do not recognise the needs of different parts of Cornwall."
Now as I am sure he is aware MK led the fight against the imposition of the unitary authority by the then Liberal Democrat County Council and Labour government. It has never been MK policy to see Kernow as one uniform place, which is why we fought to keep the tiers of local government. Mebyon Kernow policy has always been to fight for devolution to Cornwall and within Cornwall. For example at the time condemning the announcement of the centralisation the then deputy mayor of Penzance, Richard Clark said this:
“As it is now certain that the district councils will be abolished, it is up to Cornwall's town and parish councils to seek the devolution of decision-making powers to preserve what we can of locally exercised democratic control." Unitary Decision Devalues our Local Democracy

Recently Stephen Richardson blogged about why Illogan Parish Council (of which he is a councillor) ought to develop it's own planning strategy and not to confirm unconditionally with Cornwall Council's plans for nearby Camborne, Redruth and Pool. See his blog here I can't think of a finer example of fighting for localism and arguing that what is best for one area might not be best for another. Anyone that even has a slight inkling of who MK councillors are on Cornwall Council, they will know that they fight hard for their local areas and do the best to represent them and do not see Cornwall as one uniform place demanding uniform policies.

Mebyon Kernow as a party fights for devolution both to Cornwall and to our communities, believe me if I thought this party only cared for Cornwall and not my home town of Penzance I would jump ship in a flash. The party is committed to devolution within Cornwall to deal with the specific problems of different areas. To quote from the 'Our Policies' section of the Mebyon Kernow website:
"In addition, devolved government based on Cornwall would also create the space to allow the current functions of Cornwall Council to be devolved downwards - to councils that are based on local communities and can provide the grassroots of a living and participatory human scale democracy." Mebyon Kernow

I do not mind Mudhook blogging about why he doesn't like Mebyon Kernow, this is a democracy and freedom of speech is the most fundamental part of that. What I do mind is misrepresenting MK in such a way, if he really wants to see Cornwall's unique and varied problems dealt with better, might I suggest he tackles those that run the centralised Cornwall Council in Truro (Conservative and Independent coalition) and cast a weary eye over those that imposed this upon us in the first place (Labour and the Liberal Democrats). Also he might like to join me in calling for services and departments to be devolved to Cornwall and thus ensuring not only jobs coming to Cornwall as I argue, but local solutions are devised and applied at the local level. Localism, Devonwall and how to bring Cornish jobs back