Is the plan for 47,500 homes in Cornwall a countryside invasion or a solution to the housing crisis?

Campaigners in Cornwall have described plans for 47,500 new homes in the county by 2030 as ‘an invasion’ of the countryside.

CPRE Cornwall has released the first part of a report slamming the pace and location of developments in the county, highlighting residential schemes as its main area of concern. It says that at the current rate of growth, the built-up part of Cornwall will double within this generation’s lifetime with new houses being built in the county at a faster rate than anywhere else in the UK.

The report says that the number of houses proposed in Cornwall Council’s draft local plan is the equivalent of 4.2 Penzances, 5.1 Cambornes, 5.3 Truros and 10.7 Liskeards.

The CPRE says that a much lower number of houses is needed and it is calling on people to sign up to its charter to lobby against such development.

Orlando Kimber, spokesman for CPRE Cornwall, said that the organisation was “emphatically not against development” but said that Cornwall had already “shouldered more than its fair share of new housing developments”.

He said: “We’re losing greenfield sites to all sorts of developments and the nature of Cornwall itself is changing. Holidaymakers don’t come to Cornwall to look at building sites and estates, they come to enjoy the rural beauty. We believe that it’s being homogenised and that economic arguments are being used to run roughshod over community and environmental needs. There needs to be a proper balance between them.”

Cornwall’s draft Local Plan for 2010-2030 has already been subject to public consultation and it is now due to be agreed by councillors later this year. Mr Kimber said CPRE Cornwall wanted to see the number of new homes proposed substantially reduced. He would not say by how many, saying this figure would be given in future instalments of the six-part report into housing.

He said that towns such as Truro, St Austell, Bodmin and Pool were already “under stress” with housing developments putting their transport, waste and energy infrastructure under pressure.

The issue of developing Cornwall’s communities while retaining its natural beauty has always been a thorny subject with schemes such as Coyte Farm and Carlyon Bay near St Austell and Threemilestone, near Truro, provoking fierce controversy.

Justin Dodge, a director of the development company Westcountry Land & Homes, said he believed the 47,500 target for new homes was too low.

He said that with 28,000 people on Cornwall’s housing register, a more appropriate target would be around 70,000. Mr Dodge said that around seven per cent of Cornwall was built up, adding: “It’s not exactly concrete city. I get fed up with these quotes from different campaign groups who talk about concreting over Cornwall. Cornwall is not a museum. There is no area in the UK that can remain stagnant. Every area needs growth for its economy.

“I don’t believe that the solution is to have new towns like the (St Austell) eco-towns dumped anywhere. Housing should be attached to existing communities. I think the key issue is that Cornwall needs to accept change. I’m Cornish and I’m passionate about the county but it’s imperative that the council and councillors accept change will happen.”

Mr Dodge also called on councillors to adopt a more positive attitude towards developments, saying that many schemes refused by planning committees have subsequently been approved on appeal.

“Cornwall councillors are not accepting change because they believe their constituents will vote them out at the next election. All that does is instigate a planning system which is out of control,” he said. “They have to be seen to embrace developers. They need to be seen saying ‘yes’ so that when they say ‘no’ it’s credible.”

Councillor Edwina Hannaford, Cornwall Council’s portfolio holder for environment, heritage and planning, said the council was trying to strike a balance between the beauty of the natural landscape and the need to provide homes. She said 25,000 new homes out of the 47,500 specified in the draft local plan had either already been built, or had planning permission in place.

Coun Hannaford said that, at present, the ratio of affordable homes was 33 percent – something Cornwall Council planned to see an increase to 50 per cent. “There is a housing crisis in Cornwall,” she said. “We have got to strike a balance between the affordable homes that people need and the landscape. I was talking to two young men who are volunteer firefighters and one of them is still living with his parents and the other is staying in a room with friends, sofa surfing.

“We must provide for our young people or we will lose them. I’m not saying develop willy nilly anywhere but there is a housing crisis and there are a lot of people in need.”