Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Cabinet votes no to Plan B on Waste

On Monday, I attended the latest meeting of Cornwall Council’s ten-strong ruling Cabinet. One of the items on the agenda was the request from the  Cornwall Waste Forum that, instead of building a £150 million incinerator in Mid Cornwall, the Council should investigate a “high recycling” approach to waste management. The Forum argues that it could save tens of millions of pounds.

A report, written by senior Council officers, was presented to the meeting. It contained a strong recommendation that an “independent assessment” of the “alternative waste management strategy … be not undertaken.”

It was a ridiculously one-sided report. It contained errors, as well as statements which contradicted what councillors had previously been told. Unbelievably, the Cabinet Members failed to notice any of these errors or to challenge any aspects of the report.

The report claimed that an alternative approach “would take eight-nine years to put in place,” with four years needed to develop new planning policies. But this is an absolute fiction and not borne out by what Cornwall Council planners are actually doing!

The report also claimed that smaller waste management sites, as suggested by the Forum, could not be brought forward in a short time-scale because of this “policy situation.” But I was able to point out three sites dealing with waste that had, or were being, developed without any change in policy taking four years. What is more, two of these sites belong to Cornwall Council / SITA … what double-standards!

Also in the report, the cost of terminating the present incinerator waste contract was double that of previous published estimates. I challenged this. I pointed out that because the works on the incinerator had not been commenced by March 2010, the Council had the right to ask for a revised project plan (RPP) or to terminate the contract on a “force majeure” or no-fault basis.

I reminded councillors that a revised project plan, which is simply remodelling the costings for the incinerator, was being produced, but that we had been repeatedly assured that the Council retained the right to a no-fault termination right up until the date that a RPP was agreed. And yet suddenly, we were being told by senior officers that this is not the case and the costs have doubled! I am angered at the levels of misinformation and scaremongering, and I have made a formal complaint to the Council.

The report also had a section outlining “risks,” but there was nothing on the risks of not looking at the Forum’s proposal.

For example, there was nothing on the risk of not investigating an option that could, in the long-term, be the most cost-effective and save millions. And there was nothing about the risk posed by moves to ban the incineration of recyclable materials, as suggested by the EU Resource Efficient Europe resolution, which could make the incinerator inoperable.

It was a very disappointing meeting. The Cabinet voted by seven votes to two, to not investigate the Forum’s proposal. There was one abstention.

Along with a healthy contingent of campaigners from St Dennis and the Mid Cornwall area, I left the meeting aghast at the decision, the manner in which it had been handled and the lack of informed debate by Cabinet Members.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Report to Council Cabinet says no to Plan B

As previously noted on this blog, the Cornwall Waste Forum has devised an alternative approach to waste management.

The Forum argues that it is a better alternative than a massive incinerator. It states that the likely capital costs of the new facilities would be £60 million (compared to around £150 million for the incinerator plant) while the running costs would be £10 million less per annum than the Council’s present preferred option.

The Council’s Waste Panel backed calls for the scheme to be properly considered, and the Forum's proposal will now be considered by the Council's ruling Cabinet on Monday 30th July.

The accompanying report Cabinet has just been published and it is shockingly biased, one-sided document.

It does not address the benefits or savings of the Forum’s plans and the recommendation is that “an independent assessment of the Cornwall Waste Management Forum St Dennis Branch proposals for an alternative waste management strategy for Cornwall be not undertaken.”

I am appalled.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Railways: what is the Coalition thinking?

In this coming week's Cornish Guardian, my column will be about the lack of Government investment in Cornwall's railways. Set out below is the preview:

There was considerable fanfare to last week’s announcement that the Government planned to invest £9.4 billion into railways across England and Wales.

Government ministers described it as the “biggest investment in rail infrastructure for 150 years.” Prime Minister David Cameron said it was the "biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era" and that the investment would create "a truly world-class rail network" while the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, said the projects were "absolutely key to securing our country's prosperity in the decades ahead."

Proposals within the programme include improvements near Heathrow Airport and at London Waterloo; electrification schemes along the east coast of England and in South Wales; an “electric spine” from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to the south; as well as further improvements at Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and other cities.

But what about Cornwall?

The plans include no investment in any rail infrastructure to the west of Bristol and the Government has since unbelievably suggested that the number of direct trains between London Paddington and Penzance could actually be cut under a new franchise arrangement.

The Coalition has certainly united Cornwall in opposition to its plans and there is palpable anger that the Government’s aim to create a “truly world-class rail network" and achieve “prosperity in the decades ahead" does not stretch as far as Cornwall.

The Conservative Leader of Cornwall Council has said the cuts would lead to a “third-class rail system in Cornwall.” Coalition MPs have meanwhile demanded that the cuts be ditched, pointing out the potential damage to Cornwall’s "image, economy and tourism," and they have since had an emergency meeting with Government Minister Theresa Villiers.

From my perspective, I do not understand what is happening with the Coalition. All six Cornish MPs are members of either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrat party, but their political masters in London are simply not listening to their own MPs.

For example, Cameron and Clegg did not listen when they cut capital investment in Cornish schools and slashed funding for public services. They did not listen when they pushed forward plans for a Devonwall parliamentary seat and their ludicrous idea of a Pasty Tax.

And now, Cornwall is facing cuts to its rail network, while many parts of England and Wales will soon be enjoying significant investment.

It is necessary to ask why central government is not delivering a better deal for Cornwall and why it wishes to embarrass local MPs who seem to be continuously “fire-fighting” and distancing themselves from their own Government’s policies and initiatives.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Coalition "affordable rents" are not affordable

In one of my most recent articles for the Cornish Guardian, I hit out at how the Coalition is undermining the provision of truly affordable homes. It was as below:

The massive hike in the cost of housing since 2000 has done great damage to the very fabric of our towns and villages.

Hardworking families, making do on low local wages, are finding it ever more difficult to buy their own homes. More and more families are struggling to afford private sector rents, paying a truly disproportionate amount of their income to simply keep a roof over their heads.

And for so many, the dream of a “council house” remains just that – a dream – as we are still feeling the legacy of the Thatcher Government’s sell-off of thousands and thousands of publicly-owned homes.

The need to tackle the cost of housing is one of the most important issues facing central government, but Grant Shapps and his fellow ministers are failing to address it.
It is shocking that the Coalition Government has so drastically slashed investment in new affordable homes. Between 2008 and 2012, the Homes and Communities Agency invested £100 million in Cornwall. For the period 2012 to 2016, that figure has been cut to £19 million.

I have written previously about the decree from central government that new “affordable” rental properties should not be let out at low “social rents,” but at a new “affordable rent.”

This is set at 80% of the ridiculously inflated level of open-market rents, increasing the cost of housing to the less-well-off.

Instead of trying to make housing less expensive, these actions are further inflaming the housing market and will lead to higher costs in housing benefits. This is ridiculously counter-productive, but it gets worse.

A few weeks ago, I was studying the weekly advert in the Western Morning News for rental properties from various Housing Associations.

And there, hidden among the traditional adverts for two and three-bedroom properties, with rents set at £70 - £90 a week, there were adverts for new “affordable rent” properties. These included a two-bed flat for £140 a week and a three-bed house for £165 a week in St Austell, as well as a four-bed house in Trispen for £760 a month.

There is no way that such prices fall within 80% of average open market rents in these areas.

It turns out that central government is allowing providers of affordable housing some “flex” to increase the rents of their new properties if, for example, they are built to modern standards (aren’t they all?) or if the house is slightly bigger than the bare minimum, etc.

As a consequence, many of these new “affordable” properties are as expensive, or even more expensive, than what can be found on the open market.

This is madness. The Government has got it wrong and needs to rethink its whole approach to housing.

This weekend, I once again checked the Homechoice advert. It included a new “affordable rent” development in Falmouth (Westcountry Housing) with two-bed houses for rent at £621 a month and three-bed houses for rent at £660 a month.

Such prices are not affordable and I will be making further representations at County Hall on Monday.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Holyer an Gof

Tonight I attended the annual Holyer an Gof book awards in Waterstones inTruro. Instigated in 1996, the awards are named in memory of Redruth publisher and Cornish Bard Leonard Truran, whose bardic name was Holyer an Gof - Follower of The Smith (Michael Joseph An Gof). Len was also a leading member of MK and a former Chairman.

Just under ninety books (published in 2011) were entered and it was great to see such a wide range of fantastic publishing in Cornwall. I was especially pleased that my book “The Story of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall,” produced to marks MK’s 60th anniversary, was shortlisted for one of the awards.  

The 40-page book explores MK’s early days as a pressure group, its evolution into a fully-fledged political party, past campaigns and more recent activities, as well as an assessment of MK’s achievements.

It also features a large number of photographs, press clippings and other images from the 1950s through to the present day.

The book can now be purchased in Truro’s Waterstones for £5.00. The book can also be ordered from me at Lanhainsworth, Fraddon Hill, Fraddon, St Columb, TR9 6PQ, for £5.00 (plus £1.00 post and packing).

But there is also another way to get a copy. All new members of MK get a free copy of the book. So,if you are not already a member of MK, why don't you visit our website and join up now!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Funny goings on at County Hall - an update!

Cornwall Council has reversed its position on the validity of the motion passed by the Waste Panel and I understand that the alternative waste management proposal, presented by the Cornwall Waste Forum, will be considered by the Council's ruling Cabinet on 24th July.

A further email from the Head of Legal Services sent out today states the following:

"Having considered this matter carefully, I am prepared to allow the recommendations to Cabinet to stand as formal resolutions of the WDAP.

"I am mindful that the WDAP has made recommendations which effectively cannot be carried forward or implemented until they have been considered by Cabinet. I am satisfied that the very important legal, financial and other factors inherent in those recommendations can be appropriately considered by Cabinet before a decision is taken whether they are accepted.

"I apologise for any concern caused by the content of the email and would assure everyone that my officers were acting entirely in the interests of ensuring effective decision-making. Any accusations or implications that certain officers and/or Members were acting with anything other than complete integrity in this matter are wholly unjustified."

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Funny goings on at County Hall

Earlier I reported how Cornwall Council’s Waste Panel supported a recommendation to the Cabinet that the high recycling approach to waste management, presented by the Cornwall Waste Forum at a meeting today, be independently assessed as a matter of urgency.

But the following email has just been sent around to members of the Panel.

Dear Councillor,

I write with regard to this morning’s meeting and the proposed recommendation to Cabinet made within Agenda No. 4 ‘Alternative Methods of Waste Disposal- Presentation’. Unfortunately, I must advise that this resolution of the Panel is not valid.

Following the meeting I sought advice regarding this issue and it transpires that a decision making body of the Council cannot take any decision as a result of a verbal report or presentation.

Ultimately, a Committee or Panel cannot take decisions without all of the appropriate information before them and having considered all options. A verbal report or presentation does not allow Members to make informed decisions having given regard to all of the relevant facts, nor does it provide an audit trail of why such a decision was made. In addition, in the absence of a written report, no account has been given to any legal or financial implications which may arise from such a recommendation and there has been no opportunity for either Members or the public to consider any implications in advance of the meeting – a requirement of the Access to Information Act.

While I appreciate that this news will be frustrating, it is of the utmost importance that the Authority takes its decisions within the law.

Please therefore note that I will be recording the views of the Panel within the Minutes … but that these will not be recorded as a formal resolution and will merely highlight the concerns raised along with the suggestions highlighted at the meeting.

I am presently seeking assurances that the Cabinet will nonetheless consider our proposal at its earliest opportunity.

No to incineration: There is a better and cheaper way to deal with waste

The Cornwall Waste Forum, which is leading the opposition to the construction of the incinerator at St Dennis (above), was yesterday refused leave to take their case to the Supreme Court.

The ruling represents really bad news for Cornwall and was summed up extremely well by Ken Rickard, the Chairman of the Forum.

He said: “In our opinion, this decision proves that political and multi-national lobbying is more effective than common law and democracy. This decision also smacks in the face of the Government’s Localism Bill.”

The reality is that there are better ways to deal with Cornwall’s domestic waste than stuffing it into an over-sized and unsustainable waste incinerator.

The Cornwall Waste Forum has itself produced an alternative to incineration, which was presented to the Council’s Waste Panel.

In summary, the Forum has proposed a more decentralised approach to waste management with three sorting plants (to remove recyclable materials from black bag waste) and three AD (anaerobic digestion) plants to deal with organic waste, sitting alongside a large waste awareness programme.

The estimates presented to the meeting by the Forum stated that the likely capital costs of the new facilities would be £60 million (compared to around £150 million for the incinerator plant) while the running costs would be £10 million less than the Council’s present preferred option.

At the meeting, I, once again, made the point that it was a disgrace that the leadership of Cornwall Council has refused to allow an alternative to incineration to be worked up. I added that the Council would be foolhardy and negligent not to properly consider the scheme presented by the Forum, and moved the following proposal:

The Waste Advisory Panel recommends to the Cabinet that:
(i) the high recycling option, presented by the Cornwall Waste Forum, and the Council’s incinerator option, be independently assessed as a matter of urgency,
(ii) and that this work be carried out in advance of any recommencement of physical works on the incinerator proposal.

The two parts of the proposal were voted on separately. The request for an independent assessment was carried unanimously (eight votes to nil) while the second part of the proposal was carried by six votes to two.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Support the Chagos Islanders

This week, I signed a new e-petition from the UK Chagos Support Association, which calls on the British Government to allow the return of the Chagos Islands to their original inhabitants.. The petition can be found at:

The Chagos Islanders were forcibly evicted between 1967 and 1973 so that the British Government could lease the largest island, known as Diego Garcia, to the United States for the construction of one of the biggest military bases in the world.

The expulsion of this community has been condemned many times as one of the “most shameful episodes in British post-war history” and the consequences of their exile has been very severe. Many families continue to live in terrible poverty in the slums of Mauritius and many have lost loved ones, with suicides being particularly common.

The islanders have won a number of victories through the court system, but the last Labour Government refused to end the injustice. In 2004, Tony Blair even invoked a royal prerogative, which did not need the support of the House of Commons, in order to ban the islanders from ever returning to Diego Garcia and the surrounding islands.

In 2006, in a damning verdict, a High Court ruling even condemned the actions of the British government as “repugnant.”

The Conservatine and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government also has yet to right the wrong perpetrated by previous Labour and Tory administrations.

One member of the UK Chagos Support Association recently wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, drawing a parallel with th UK’s strong support for the right of the occupants of the Falkland Islands. It was as follows:

“I read today your warm and sympathetic words for the inhabitants of the Falklands Islands in offering them this country’s unwavering support in order that they may live in peace and freedom. There has indeed been a British settlement on those islands for 170 years. And as you say, generations of islanders have striven hard to secure a prosperous future for their children. Your commitment to stand up for the Falkland Islanders in the future as in the past must give them great comfort.

“A pity then that your government and its predecessors have dealt with the inhabitants of another archipelago in a completely different way. These islands have belonged to Britain even longer and were settled at least 25 years before the Falklands. I refer to the Chagos Islands.

“In the 1960s, our “friends”, the Americans, wanted to establish a huge military base in the Indian Ocean. Britain offered Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands. The fact that there was a population of over 2,000 people who were no doubt striving hard to secure a prosperous future for their children, was given no consideration. Unlike the Falkland Islanders, most of whom are of British descent, the Chagossians are a mix of African (freed slaves), Indian and Malay. Their right to live in the country of their birth, to be supported by the colonial power which owned their homeland was totally disregarded. The way these people were treated was totally shameless, indeed criminal.

“Mrs Thatcher, whom I believe you admire, sent warships to the South Atlantic to defend the Falklands Islanders and their home. The exact opposite was the lot of the Chagossians. Agents of the British government told them lies, intimidated and physically maltreated them, killed their stock and their dogs, and forcibly evicted them – on British warships. For the past 45 years they have lived in shanty-town refugee camps in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

“I consider the treatment of these people to be one of the most appalling actions ever taken by a British government and certainly the worst in my lifetime. I am ashamed of my country. It is probably too late to give the Chagossians back what they have lost but don’t you think that as heirs of this repellent behaviour and this situation you have some responsibility to make amends as best you can?”

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Skate park for Summercourt

At the last meeting of St Enoder Parish Council, I was able to report that we have secured funding for skateboard facilities in Summercourt. Printed below is the news report from the Cornish Guardian:

A new £35,000 skatepark will be soon be opening in Summercourt.

St Enoder Parish Council has been working with schoolchildren to get the best facility which will be built at Thomas Playing Field.

Last year, the Council was approached by children who requested facilities similar to those constructed at Indian Queens Recreation Ground in January 2011.

The majority of the money raised for the project has come from two grant applications obtained by councillor Dick Cole. The grants include £15,000 from the Clay Country Local Action Group and £15,000 from the SITA Cornwall Trust.

The Clay Country Local Action Group's contribution came from the Rural Development Programme for England with finance from the European Union and Defra.

The new facility will include a number of ramps on a tarmac surface.
Mr Cole, who met with children at the school on a number of occasions to find out what the children wanted, said: "I am absolutely delighted that we have been successful with the grant applications and that we will be able to deliver this much-requested facility.

"It has been a pleasure to work with the children and staff of Summercourt School and I am confident that this will be a fantastic addition to the playing field."

St Enoder chairman Andrew Waters said: "This is something we have wanted to do for several years and it is fantastic that we have been able to secure funding – a huge thank you to Councillor Cole for all his hard work.

"It means we are getting a £35,000 facility for the children for just £5,000 of council funds which we have been saving for. It is great for the children of this parish and encouraging to see the children of Summercourt School getting so involved."

The work could start in the next few weeks and the council is hoping the skatepark will be open in time for the summer holidays.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A day at Cornwall Council: Remploy, regional pay and a haul road

At today’s Full Council meeting, members supported two motions. The first (cross-party) motion was to write to the Government, requesting that they do not close the “only remaining Remploy factory in the South West, situated just outside Penzance at Long  Rock which is vital for the local economy and which provides invaluable opportunities for training, qualifications and entry into sustainable employment for those who are most in need.” This was supported unanimously.

The second proposal put forward by the Liberal Democrats opposing regional pay. It called for fair pay for Cornwall and proposed writing to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, Cornwall’s MPs and pay review bodies setting out the Council's "opposition to a regionalised pay structure and the severe effect this change will have on the economy of Cornwall therefore calling on the Government to abandon the proposal.”

I noted that the Liberal Democrats were discomforted by the fact that some of their own MPs, such as Danny Alexander, had spoken in support of regional pay. I spoke in favour of the motion and asked that opposition to the regionalisation of benefits be incorporated into the motion. This was agreed and it was also agreed that the Council also copy the representation to Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander.

The second motion was passed near-unanimously. There were three Tory abstentions.

At Members’ Questions, I asked the Leader of the Council if spending over £3 million on the option for a haul road (of one and a bit miles through clayworks) to the proposed incinerator at St Dennis was good value. I pointed out that for £3 million, the Highways Agency had purchased 7 miles of farmland for a dual carriageway and associated junctions, etc, for the dualling of the A30 between Indian Queens and Bodmin.

Monday, 2 July 2012

MK social event to be held in St Austell

A social event has been arranged for Mebyon Kernow members and supporters in the St Austell and Newquay constituency.

It will take place at the White Hart Hotel in St Austell, on Thursday 12th July, and it will start at 7.30 pm.

Prominent members of Mebyon Kernow from elsewhere in Cornwall will be present and a number of short films (all on Cornwall and Cornish themes) will be shown at the gathering.

The event will also be open to non-members. Please come along if you want to meet local MK members and find out more about Mebyon Kernow and its work for Cornwall.

House of Lords reform - what about Cornwall?

Mebyon Kernow would welcome an end to the present unelected second chamber. It is wrong that hereditary peers (with no democratic mandate) and retired / defeated MPs and MEPs (appointed through political patronage) should be allowed such legislative influence.

However, we are angry that there will be no Cornish representatives in the new House of Lords, but 33 representatives for the wider south-west, elected via a list form of PR across a massive constituency stretching as far as Bristol and Tewkesbury.

Unlike Wales and Scotland, our territorial integrity has been ignored. It is wrong that we will not be allowed our own elected representatives and that Cornish interests will be submerged within those of a larger zone.

It is my view that central government is making a complete shambles of its political reform and trashing Cornwall’s historic and territorial integrity.

When it drew up plans for new Westminster constituencies, the Coalition refused to respect the Cornish border and forced through proposals that would lead to a Devonwall parliamentary seat.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

"Don't patronise the Cornish" - The Observer

The Observer has published a version of my letter of complaint concerning the Free Cornwall article published on 24th June. The letter has been rewritten rather than edited, and I have included both below.

The published letter is as follows:

Don’t patronise the Cornish

The article “Free Cornwall” (magazine last week) misrepresented what Mebyon Kernow – the party for Cornwall (MK) stands for. MK is not campaigning for independence, but greater self-government / devolution through a national assembly for Cornwall. The article was based around vague and unsubstantiated claims of “separation”, was disrespectful to the Cornish language and, in what century is it acceptable to describe Cllr Dr Loveday Jenkin as “a charismatic MK pixie”? It is little wonder that here in Cornwall the article has been variously described as “patronising,” “sarcastic,” “condescending” and “prejudicial.”

Now spot the differences! My original letter was as follows:

The “Free Cornwall” article in last week’s magazine section of the Observer was a poor piece of journalism and badly misrepresented what Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall (MK) stands for.

When contacted by the journalist who wanted to write a piece about the movement for “Cornish Independence,” we explained in considerable detail that MK was not campaigning for independence, but greater self-government / devolution through a National Assembly for Cornwall.

We are therefore very disappointed that he chose to ignore this and based his whole article around vague and unsubstantiated falsehoods of “separation,” “independence,” and an “independent  Cornwall.” The article includes a range of inaccuracies, it is disrespectful to the Cornish language and, frankly, in what century is it acceptable to describe Cllr Dr Loveday Jenkin, a respected professional woman, as “a charismatic MK pixie”?

It is little wonder that here in Cornwall the article has been variously described as “patronising,” “sarcastic,” “condescending” and “prejudicial.”

It saddens me greatly – as someone who has read the Guardian / Observer newspapers for most of my adult life – that the Observer has produced such a disrespectful article on the Party that I am proud to lead.