Thursday, 16 January 2014

Housing housing housing

Housing, the local plan and all that jazz is not something I often really comment on. There was a big vote at Cornwall Council on tuesday to decide the numbers for the period 2010-2030. Penzance featured quite heavily with a motion by Councilors Cornelius Olivier and Tim Dwelly seeking to push the numbers for the Penzance area up significantly, in this they failed quite badly. So the Local Plan has new draft figures (the last council voted on figures and these have been revisited) and we have some sense what kind of idea of the housing numbers we are looking at for the next 17 years.

The numbers are 1,400 for Penzance/ Newlyn and 1,100 for the rest of the area, a 2,500 total. With the caveat that these numbers will go out to consultation of course. The defeated Labour amendment was for an increase to 2,500 for Penzance and 1,350 for the area outside Penzance (see the white area in the map below.) To put this in perspective there are 20,623 households in the Network Area (1,273 empty in Penzance Newlyn alone), the population growth of this area in the last 20 years has been 5.7% (5% for PZ/N).  If we take the average of 2.2 people per household as in the last census for the town, we are looking at a population increase of 5500 across the area, the defeated amendment would have equaled 8470.

A quick word about the vote the reason the motion proposed by the Penzance Central and Penzance East councilors failed, was it lacked support. I know it's an obvious point, I did feel sorry for the pair of them who looked very ganged up on as a quick succession of councilors got up and spoke against it. With the exception of Roy Mann who represents Ludgvan, councilors for Marazion, Penzance Central, Newlyn and Mousehole, Gulval and Heamoor and St Buryan all spoke giving valid reasons they didn't support the Labour plan. Such as no consultation for change with towns and parishes, let alone the general public, no consideration for the effect on infrastructure, no consideration for employment. And other criticisms of a narrow argument to grow the housing stock in Penwith by 15% for the sake of it. As a result on the webcast you can hear the Chair quickly count to 6 and stop all presumably from the Labour and Co-op group's 8. 

The other reason it lacked support was that any building increases in the Local Plan would inevitably fall upon the neighbouring wards. Save for the nightmare scenarios of building on Lescudjack Hill Fort, or the Rec or the roundabout in Treneere there isn't significant room for development in Penzance East. Similarly in Central and Promenade, there is only Penlee park, the Magpies football ground, the Mennaye and a few car parks where any of the proposed (and defeated) 2,500 homes would go. As a consequence they would have to be built in adjacent wards particularly on green fields around Gulval, Heamoor and Newlyn, with the real prospect of creating a huge conurbation of continuous housing around Penzance itself.  This was true of the rural area too, the Labour group voted for their quota to increase from 1000 to 1350 again nonsensically without the support of councilors for that area.

Just a few comments to finish, the idea that Penzance should grow by 15% for the sake of growth itself is a misguided concept in my opinion. The story of demographics in the town is that when the economy has been good the town population grew when it has been bad (decline of mining, quarrying, fishing) the town shrank as people moved away. The key to growth, the key to keeping people here is jobs, pure and simple. The population of Penzance in 2001 census was 21,168 in the ten years until 2011 this grew by a mere 21,200, this is a reflection of the state of the economy and the recession in that period. Where people move will always reflect the jobs market, to try to inflate population growth by allowing building lacks sense. I've said it before and I'll say it again here, the amount of housing in the next 17 years is an emotive issue, some may disagree with me some may agree, I say this because that's what I found on the doorstep in the election campaign. Politics needs to be about public input, it needs to be about community engagement and having political debates in public forums. I really hope now and in the future crucial decisions like this, that will greatly effect the shape, character and destiny of this town will have public engagement at the fore and be presented with researched evidence. Call me an idealist with some form of cross party support!

Grateful to the Our Cornwall blog for some of the statistics that I used, from this blog

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