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Archives for January 2011

Cornwall Council juggles Pickles and pounds

Martyn Oates | 14:19 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

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£10 note

Earnestly and honestly though the worthies of local government might wish to see their own party ruling the country, it's not always plain sailing when that wish comes true.

The cautionary tale of Eric Pickles, Cornwall Council, and the Supporting People budget illustrates this uncomfortable truth.

Tory-led Cornwall Council is pushing ahead with plans to slash its Supporting People budget by 40%. Critics says cutting housing support for vulnerable people could lead to a rise in crime and homelessness.

Rather unhelpfully for the council, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles also thinks it's a terrible idea. And, as you'd expect, he doesn't mince his words in saying so:

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We invited the leader of Cornwall Council to join us on the BBC Politics Show to explain why he and his colleagues had arrived at such a radically different conclusion.

Our conversation took an unexpected course when Cllr Alec Robertson revealed that he was in complete agreement with everything Mr Pickles had said.

You can watch the discussion that followed here:

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Could the Government ban second votes for second homes?

Martyn Oates | 14:09 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

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A Government Minister has hinted that the law which gives people second votes to go with their second homes could be changed

Lord Taylor of Holbeach was responding to a question by Lord Teverson, the latest in a series of Cornish Liberal Democrats to raise the issue at Westminster.

Lord Teverson says second home owners should be forced to designate one property as their main residence (rather like Honourable and Right Honourable members and noble Lords). They would then get just one vote attached to this address.

Cornwall Council, which presides over nearly 14,000 second homes, backs the idea and Lord Taylor said he could confirm that "the Government are considering this further."

At the moment people who qualify for the electoral roll in two local authority areas get to vote in both places in local elections and can choose to vote in one or the other in a general election.

But you don't just get handed a second vote automatically when you buy a holiday home. You're only entitled to a piece of the double-voting action if you qualify for inclusion on the electoral roll. And, on paper at least, that's a big if.

According to the Electoral Commission's website, "a person with two homes who spends about the same amount of time in each can be lawfully registered at both addresses. However, it is unlikely that ownership of a second home that is used only for recreational purposes would meet the residency qualification."

This clearly excludes the stereotypical second home owner who just pops down to enjoy himself for a few weeks in the summer.

But figures produced by Cornwall Council show that a fifth of the county's second homes - 2,653 properties - had at least one householder on the electoral roll last September. The council tells us it's since deleted 947 of these electors, following the intensified political interest in the issue.

Even if you assume that every house is owned by a singleton, that still leaves a minimum of 1,700 second home owners who apparently live in Cornwall for half the year and aren't just doing so to enjoy the county's myriad pleasures.

And given that most of them have probably embraced family life in one form or another, the number is almost certainly far higher.

All of this could be set to change if the Government is in earnest about amending the law. That, though, is difficult to gauge.

Lord Taylor did indeed assure Lord Teverson that the Government were "considering this further". Just seconds earlier, though, he inisisted the Government had "no current plans to restrict the right of second home owners who meet the residence requirement to register in two places."

But Lord Teverson is upbeat about developments.

"I take the crumb of comfort," he says. "And I think it's more than that - a Government Minister doesn't say that at the despatch box unless it's serious."

Last but not least: Devon County Council sharpens the axe

Martyn Oates | 17:39 UK time, Friday, 21 January 2011

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The slow march to incineration in Devon and Cornwall?

Martyn Oates | 19:06 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

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2011 is shaping up to be a big year for the South West's long-running waste wars.

While not yet a conflict on a par with the Hundred Years' War, the snail's paced struggle to replace landfill with something greener does have something of 1914-18 about it.

The year has begun with a skirmish in Plymouth where the South West Devon Waste Partnership (the combined forces of Torbay Council, Devon County Council and Plymouth City Council) has finally chosen Devonport Dockyard as the site for its proposed incinerator.

Local opponents have pledged to continue their resistance as the planning process gets underway - and even if and when the thing gets built.

Across the Tamar, Cornwall Council and the county's residents should soon know whether the Planning Inspector has given the go-ahead for an even larger incinerator near St Austell.

Years in the gestation, this scheme was originally a pet project of the old Cornwall County Council. Just before bowing out in 2009, the authority took the surprising step of almost unanimously refusing planning permission for its own long-nurtured scheme.

The planning's inspector's imminent verdict is the result of an email by SITA, the company contracted to build the plant.

Even if the inspector rules in its favour though, it's entirely unclear what will happen next. This week the nearly-new Cornwall Council refused to confirm that it would proceed with the scheme even if all the legal obstacles are finally removed.

Meanwhile, it's all quiet on the northern front: plans to build an incinerator in Barnstaple have been mothballed for the foreseeable future.

Devon County Council could see some action on the eastern flanks of the county, though. The proposed incinerator for Exeter's Marsh Barton industrial estate is theoretically nearer completion than Cornwall's with both an Environment Agency permit and planning permission.

I say theoretically because, as you'll have noticed by now, just everything about incineration is the South West is theoretical.

Opponents who think incinerators are dirty, wasteful eyesores, outclassed by cleaner and greener technology, will naturally be delighted if things stay that way.

And even the keenest incineration enthusisasts probably wouldn't put much money on that changing any time soon.

One thing is for sure: there's no sign of either side rushing into no man's land to sing carols, play football and forget their differences.

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