Thursday, 16 July 2015

Government's Cornwall Deal is 'Devolution Lite' - UPDATED

The terms of the Government's devolution deal for Cornwall - discussed behind closed doors by the council on Tuesday - can now be revealed. Cornwall may be the first rural area of the country to sign such a deal, but this is devolution-lite with key areas of the Case for Cornwall ignored.

Despite a very strong argument put forward by Cornwall for a wide range of new powers and responsibilities, the government have ignored the key areas of planning, housing, much of heritage and - crucially - they have not been prepared to concede any freedoms or flexibilities for Cornwall to decide matters to do with finance.

I applaud the work done by the Lib Dem - Independent cabinet running the council. They have led the process and achieved a lot. Throughout, the Conservative Group at County Hall have campaigned against the Case for Cornwall and would not even have achieved today's deal had they been in charge.

In my view, it is vital that Cornwall has more control over our own planning rules. We are governed by the National Planning Policy Framework which is designed for the whole of the UK. This one size fits all approach runs wholly counter to the concept of devolution but the government refused to budge. Many of us called for a 'Cornwall Planning Framework' to allow the somewhat different needs of our area to be put first.

The deal also refuses to allow Cornwall any freedom to take action on second homes. We asked in the Case for Cornwall for freedom to create a separate use class for second homes so as to require planning permission in areas where they are a threat to the community. We also asked for the right to charge a second home levy on council tax. Both have been denied by the government.

We know that there is a particular problem with housing in Cornwall with many people, particularly young people, priced out of the market. We asked for more control over housing policy to address this but were refused.

Cornwall also asked for more devolution in the area of finance. We wanted to be free of the Whitehall diktat to be able to take decisions in the interests of the people of Cornwall. Even after we watered down requests for more freedom over council tax, the government still refused to give ground. There has not even been an acknowledgement of the need for fairer funding.

The fear I voiced at Tuesday's council meeting was that, after today, the government would walk away believing that their conversations with Cornwall are at an end and that this is 'job done'. In truth, this is a step in the right direction, but it is barely a third of what Cornwall was asking for and Cornwall needs in order to control and shape our own destiny.

UPDATE:

Apologies for failing to note that the Government's line is that they will only discuss giving further power to Cornwall in the area of finance, planning and housing if Cornwall has a directly elected mayor, centralising all powers in the hands of a single politician. Not even the Tories in Cornwall think that is a good idea and the House of Lords recently threw out a proposal from the government the include mayors in their Cities and Devolution Bill.

UPDATE 2:

Also worth noting that Labour councillors on Tursday voted against the proposed deal. I understand their concerns over the government requirement to hold the discussion in secret, but am concerned that they appear to be against devolution.

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