Friday, 19 August 2016

Join MK in lobbying for greater recognition for Cornwall 1: No to Devonwall seat

In less than one month, the Boundary Commission will be announcing its provisional proposals for the new parliamentary boundaries for the 2020 General Election.

The Review is being driven by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act and, as the legislation stands, it would inevitably mean the creation of a Devonwall constituency.

On behalf of Mebyon Kernow, I have written to the new Minister for the Constitution, Chris Skidmore, pointing out that the Boundary Review process is against the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and asking that he promote the modification of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act to ensure that the territorial integrity of Cornwall is not breached.

Why not join MK in lobbying Mr Skidmore on this important issue.

His address is:

Chris Skidmore MP
Parliamentary Secretary (Minister for the Constitution)
Cabinet Office

For information, my letter to him was as follows:

The Parliamentary Boundary Review; Cornwall and the implications of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

In April 2014, the Coalition Government recognised the Cornish people through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The official governmental press release stated that “the decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status … as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.”

This landmark recognition came after many years of campaigning and, as a consequence, was warmly welcomed across Cornwall.

But two years on, there is a growing frustration that central government is failing to act on the various articles within the Framework Convention.

In particular, I am writing to you as the new Minister for the Constitution with regard to the Boundary Committee’s review of parliamentary constituencies for the 2020 General Election.

As you will be aware, the previous (Coalition) Government passed the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which stated that the number of seats in the UK parliament should be reduced to 600 and – unless specified in the legislation – the electorates for seats should be within 5% of the various averages for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Sadly, the Act does not recognise the territorial integrity of Cornwall and, as the legislation stands, the outcome of any Boundary Review (based on the provisions within the Act and the present electorate of Cornwall) would inevitably include the creation of a cross-Tamar “Devonwall” constituency.

We would wish to point out that it is since the Act was agreed, that the UK Government agreed the Cornish are covered by the auspices of the Framework Convention.

We would therefore contend that the legislation which guides the Boundary Review is against the spirit and intent of the Framework Convention, which, as well as protecting the culture and identity of national minorities, also seeks to protect the political integrity of territories associated with such groups.

In the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, the territories of other national minorities within the United Kingdom (namely the Scots, the Welsh and Northern Irish) are safeguarded and no seats can be proposed which would cross the borders between England and Scotland or Wales.

We would therefore request that central government amend the Act, prior to completion of the parliamentary constituency review, in order ensure that all Cornish constituencies lie entirely within the boundaries of Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly).

It is our view that it would be relatively simple for central government to do this. Only a few months ago, the Government agreed “emergency” legislation to extend the deadline for people seeking to register to vote in the referendum on the EU following the failure of the Government’s registration website.

The Government could likewise deliver a simple amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, to respect the Framework Convention and Keep Cornwall Whole. And we would appeal to you to take this course of action as the Minister for the Constitution.

We look forward to hearing from you and would welcome the opportunity to make further representations to you if that would be helpful.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Government statement on EU funding: what does it mean?

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian looked at central government’s recent announcement on EU funding. It was as follows:

In recent years, I have been in the fortunate position to be involved with some EU funding initiatives in Cornwall and to see a range of regeneration projects brought forward.

From 2011-2015, I was Chair of the Clay Country Local Action Group (LAG), which supported a range of small businesses and community groups with EU funding via the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). I have since been appointed to the successor South and East Cornwall LAG which covers an area from Summercourt to Saltash.

And last week, I was present at a LAG meeting discussing Community Led Local Development (CLLD) funding, which looks to target investment from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) towards projects in and around some of Cornwall’s most deprived communities.

But as you would imagine, there has been a great deal of concern about this funding following the vote to leave the European Union.

I was therefore very pleased to see the headlines over the weekend which stated “Government guarantee for post-EU funds.”

But on reading the detail of the statement from the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, I was not sure exactly what had been agreed.

Hammond emphasised the need for “stability and certainty,” while adding that “the government will match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020.” He also confirmed that “structural and investment funds projects signed before the Autumn Statement and Horizon research funding granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave.”

At this stage, I am concerned that the statement only guarantees those projects signed off in the next few months. It is unclear what the full impact of this deadline will be for Cornwall, which had been due to receive significant amounts of structural funding through a range of mechanisms.

Ministers from the UK’s devolved administrations were certainly quick to challenge Philip Hammond on his statement.

The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, told the media that the Government’s guarantee only covered “about half of the regional funding due to Wales” and did “not provide the long-term certainty” that was needed.

A representative of the Scottish Government meanwhile described the Government announcement as “a limited guarantee for some schemes for a few short years” which would leave “Scotland hundreds of millions of pounds short.”

At this time, we need greater clarity from central government and their MPs about what the guarantee will actually mean for Cornwall and whether they will agree to safeguard the full extent of funding that would have been received prior to Brexit.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

MK continues to oppose so-called "eco-community"

On behalf of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, Cllr Matthew Luke and I have written to the Inspector reviewing the Cornwall Local Plan. We have, once again, appealed to him to remove the so-called “eco-community” from the draft Local Plan.

Opponents of the proposal will be aware that following the debate on the “eco-community” at the Examination in Public (19th May), the Inspector confirmed the “the provision of eco-communities at West Carclaze/Baal and Par Docks” should stay in the document with an “indicative overall scale of about 1,500 and 500 dwellings respectively.”

The consultation on the Inspector’s post-hearing changes are being consulted on until Friday (12th August) and we formally requested that he look again at this issue and review the various representations submitted by Mebyon Kernow and others.

Extracts from our representation included the following:

Policy Statement: Eco-towns – A Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1

It is our view that the allocation for an “eco-community” stems from the policy direction contained within the above document which was published on 16th July 2009. This statement specified that an eco-town should be built at St Austell and the proposed “eco-community” was included within the Cornwall Local Plan following limited scrutiny because of the pervading policy direction set by central government.

But that PPS was cancelled in March 2015 with the-then Minister stating that the “eco-towns programme” was a “total shambles” which had “built nothing but resentment.” It also referred to the proposals as being “unsustainable and environmentally damaging.” Unfortunately, the cancellation of the PPS happened after the “eco-community” had been included within the draft Cornwall Local Plan.

We would request that the Inspector acknowledges this key shift in central government policy and removes this proposed “allocation” from the Cornwall Local Plan.

Lack of popular support

An application for a 1,500 unit “eco-community” at West Carclaze & Baal (PA14/12186) was validated in January 2015. We consider this application to have been premature and to have inappropriately influenced the development of planning policy for Mid Cornwall in the draft Cornwall Local Plan. But the application has shown that the proposal does not have local support. It has been opposed by over 1,000 representations and two local parish councils, as well as St Austell Town Council.

Local objections

Residents in Mid Cornwall have raised numerous objections to the proposal. These include the undeniable fact that the development is masquerading as a brown-field development, though much of the housing will be on the few remaining green fields in between St Austell and the village of Penwithick
[as pictured above]; and partly on land that has restoration conditions (ie; is technically green-field).

Local people are also opposed to the level of housing growth being proposed for the China Clay Area (see below), the pressures on local infrastructure, concerns about flooding, the impact on nature conservation interests, the change to the character of this historic mining area, and much more.

We would argue that, put simply, the proposed “eco-community” has not been worked up in enough detail to justify inclusion with the Cornwall Local Plan.

A development fails to live up earlier promises

The various documents that have been produced in recent years, by the promoters of the original eco-town proposal, made numerous promises about the environmentally-friendly nature of the development and “low-carbon living” (Clay Country Eco-town Summary Booklet; July 2009). Local people were, for example, variously promised 40-50% affordable housing (Clay Country Eco-town The Facts; 2008) or 40% affordable housing (see Clay Country Eco-town Summary Booklet; 2009).

Though we are fully against the principle of this development, we do acknowledge that Policy 3 of the draft Cornwall Local Plan does contain some policy guidelines for the development of the eco-community. But we consider that the target of 30% affordable housing is unacceptably low (given past promises), and the environmental credentials that had been used in the past to justify the development of a so-called “eco-community” are unlikely to ever be delivered.

Unsustainable levels of growth in Clay Country

Between 1991 and 2010, the China Clay Area experienced faster housing growth than any other part of Cornwall. According to Cornwall Council’s own figures, the level of housing growth – based on the existing housing stock – was a very significant 47%.

It is our view that the imposition of an “eco-town” or “eco-community” on the China Clay Area, in addition to other planned housing, is truly unsustainable.

If the level of housing proposed for the China Clay Area in the Cornwall Local Plan (including the eco-community) was allowed to go forward, it would mean that the housing stock of Clay Country would increase by over 80% over four decades (from 1991 to 2030).

It is our view this this amount of housing is excessive, with greater percentage growth than any other part of Cornwall. It would, for example, be three times the level of housing growth experienced in South East Cornwall and much more than double that of a number of other areas including West Penwith, Falmouth & Penryn, and Wadebridge & Padstow.

We will, as always, keep everyone informed about how the Inspector deals with our comments.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Cameron's resignation honours are shameful

My column in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian addresses the disquiet around David Cameron’s “resignation honours list.” The article will be as follows:

About twelve months ago, I wrote about how David Cameron had just created 45 new peers to sit in the House of Lords, bringing the total membership of the so-called “Upper House” to 826.

The whole episode was rightly branded “the honours that shame Britain.” The ennobled included retired MPs, MPs who had lost their seats at the 2015 General Election, political fixers, lobbyists and various donors to the Conservative Party.

I remember, as a life-long campaigner for democratic reform, expressing my anger at how such unelected and unaccountable individuals could be appointed through political sponsorship and allowed real and far-reaching legislative influence.

And yet, it has happened again.

In his “resignation honours list,” David Cameron has been able to hand out a total of 62 awards, almost all of which go to his inner circle and longstanding political allies, his aides and employees, or donors to the Conservative Party.

The list included George Osborne becoming a “Companion of Honour” and a number of Tory MPs and others who have been knighted or become dames. A host of CBEs, OBEs and MBEs have also been handed out, with even the “special advisor” to David Cameron’s wife securing a gong.

Such personal patronage makes a mockery of the honours system, and it should never be allowed to happen again.

But the element of the “resignation honours list” which most offends me is the creation of 16 new life peers –13 of which are Conservatives – who will all have a direct say in the future governance of the United Kingdom.

It has already been disclosed that one new Lord called Andrew Fraser, and described as the “Treasurer of the Conservative Party,” had actually gifted the Tories about £2.5 million in recent years.

It has been reported that Fraser was the “fifth or sixth biggest individual donor to the Conservatives in the last parliamentary cycle,” and that their two most generous benefactors, James Lupton and Michael Framer, had previously been given peerages by Cameron. Another donor to the Conservatives who has just became a Lord was Jitesh Gadhia who, like Fraser, was also an investment banker.

It all reminds me of the newspaper which, last year, sarcastically told its readers: “Selling peerages is illegal … but an academic study has shown that giving large sums to a political party does have a remarkedly positive effect on the chances of said donor having their talents recognised in an honours list.”

Put bluntly, the present House of Lords is an out-dated institution that has no place in twenty-first century Britain. For the sake of our democracy, it must be reformed into a fully elected second chamber or abolished altogether.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Chris Lawrence to contest Four Lanes by-election

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall is pleased to be able to confirm that it will be contesting the upcoming Cornwall Council by-election at Four Lanes, caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Derek Elliott.

Our candidate will be Chris Lawrence who is resident in the division at Carn Brea Village, where he has lived since 1973 with his wife Wendy and family.

He serves on Carn Brea Parish Council and was previously a councillor on Kerrier District Council for twelve years and served as Chairman of the authority.

Chris also has a proud record of fighting to protect the rights of ordinary working people. He was the Secretary of the Camborne branch of the GMB union for more than twenty years and continues to be heavily involved in union activity.

I believe Chris would make a brilliant representative for Four Lanes division and I am looking forward to getting out on the campaign trail to help him.