Policies for a different future
What needs to happen at Cornwall Council, UK Government, and European Union level
Cornwall Council alone cannot achieve net-zero-carbon in Cornwall by 2030. It will also require UK Government, and EU-level changes, as well as collaboration within Cornwall. However, the climate emergency is real, and Cornwall Council must act. It unveiled a climate emergency response back in July, and we were pleased to see signs of real ambition. It’s good to see other parties adopting policies that we have been advocating for years!
However, the Council’s proposals do not yet go far enough. In particular, we have seven areas in which the response should be strengthened.
- We were pleased to see Cornwall Council set out to become a leader in farming practice, using Council-owned farmland (about 1.7% of Cornwall’s total) to help new-leasing farmers manage a transition to innovative, ecologically-friendly and financially sustainable farming practice. We recommend that to increase the impact of this work, Cornwall Council should attempt to form a partnership approach with other large farming landlords (e.g. the National Trust) to create a Cornwall Sustainable Farming mark.
- We were also pleased to see a major tree-planting initiative announced. However, although ambitious by recent standards, the number of trees proposed is still far less than this emergency situation requires. Major farming reform is required to facilitate the substantial expansion of hedgerows, and the cultivating of woodland as part of standard Cornish farming practice – as well as much stronger protection against the destruction of existing complex ecosystems (which new-planted trees can take decades – or even longer – to establish). Farmers cannot be made responsible for these huge changes, especially when they are already struggling with very difficult market conditions. This reform requires changes at national and EU level, to change the structure of support that farmers receive. Ecologically progressive farming practice must be financially rewarded. But we also have a responsibility: to engage with the farming community – who are part of the foundation of Cornish life – to figure out a future together. Small changes at local level, for example through local co-operatives, can provide the local market required for incremental changes to be made. This alone is not enough, but it is an important part of the process of transitioning to a sustainable local economy.
- We were pleased to see that Cornwall Council has committed to retrofit all Council-owned properties. We believe, however, that the Cornwall Leadership Board should initiate a much more ambitious project to retrofit all inefficient homes, not just Council-owned properties. Strategic partnership with energy firms could, for example, issue c.10yr bonds backed by existing energy bills that could pay for the work to be carried out and use the energy savings achieved to pay back the bonds.
- It was good to see commitments to implement the electrification of Cornwall’s public transport vehicles. But we need much more ambition to facilitate a Cornwall that relies far less on car travel. This is one of the areas over which Cornwall Council really does have the power to act – since it gained control of transport policy under the 2015 Devolution Deal. We need more, and better, public transport, so that taking a bus or train is not a last resort for people who can’t afford a car, but the default option for getting anywhere in Cornwall.
And there are other major changes that are needed which were really not sufficiently addressed in Cornwall Council’s climate emergency response.
- We need major investment in new renewable energy. Cornwall Council’s budgets have been drastically cut by Westminster, so finding new sources of income is a priority. Renewable energy is a priority sector for developing a sustainable Cornish economy, with energy export as well as local supply a major part of our future. Cornwall Council can protect its long-term finances and strengthen local resilience by investing now in this vital Cornish industry. But the total investment required for Cornwall’s renewable sector is far more than even an ambitious Council could provide. The Local Enterprise Partnership has made investment in renewables a core feature of its own 2030 vision, but planning regulations hamper progress. This is a national issue which requires central government action to remove blockages to progress. Cornwall Council should petition the government for a by-law that would allow it discretion over planning for local onshore wind generation. It should also encourage all town and parish councils to include ambitious renewable energy proposals within Neighbourhood Development Plans.
- Cornwall Council needs a far more robust approach to planning. It should use existing planning laws to require that all new buildings conform to energy positive design, using EPC and microgeneration requirements. This is not a change to Building Regulations (which are held by Westminster), but an enforcement of local considerations in planning approval. If a building can’t demonstrate a net-positive contribution to Cornwall it shouldn’t get planning permission. However, there are genuine problems with the existing system that empowers large developers to go over the heads of local concerns and appeal directly to central government. We need urgent Building Regulations change at national level, but at least as importantly: we need further devolution to empower Cornwall to make our own decisions about what gets built, how, where, and by whom. We can’t build a sustainable local economy if the basis of our local life together is consistently undermined by large developers parachuting whole new places into Cornwall. New communities need to grow from the ground up, not be imposed from above. We urgently need stronger local democracy.
- The Local Enterprise Partnership, which includes Cornwall Council representation, should push for a major and rapid transition to a more resilient and sustainable local economy as part of the 2019 Local Industrial Strategy review. This should prioritise a clear, practical roadmap for a step-change in Cornwall’s local Food & Drink and Energy industries that strengthens local supply chains and boosts local ownership. It should also use these leading-edge sectors of Cornwall’s economy to build other sustainable local manufacturing capacities, such as clothing, timber, and house-building.
Of course, from central government, we need a Carbon Tax, now. We need a Land Value Tax, now. We need a Green New Deal, now. We need national farming and fishing reform, now. We need planning reform, energy reform, finance reform, now. And for Cornwall, we demand more devolution, now! This is an emergency: we have not got time to wait.