National Park Cornwall

National Park Cornwall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One fifth of Cornwall is designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and these, together with the open-heartedness of the natives, attract five and a half million visitors every year. Whilst the warmth of local people is not in doubt, the effect of inappropriate development in Cornwall’s landscape – tens of thousands of new houses built over the last twenty years with barely sufficient schools, hospitals, doctors, sewage and so on – can be seen everywhere. The Duchy is also one of the poorest areas of the UK, with an economic output way below the national average.

A system of governance that makes decisions in Westminster for a region 270 miles away – and dramatically different in terms of business, communities and environment – is failing us. What works for the London-weighted South East is not working for the South West and we urgently need to integrate the best practices of Westminster, with a knowledge and love of Cornwall that can only be possessed by those who actually live here. It’s not enough to have a local authority acting as the agent as the Government of the day and – though some may chant “the right development, in the right place”- to have no system to ensure that the wisdom of local people informs this. Local councillors may wish to influence decisions, but one way or another, all control is in the hands of unelected civil servants. The slight exception is the cabinet of councillors who can make strategic choices, but they do so within the context of the mandate from Westminster and those who carry it out.

We need the entirety of Cornwall to have National Park status and for everyone in Cornwall to be involved in its creation, so that local governance is truly representative of local needs.

What is a National Park?

Historically, a National Park is a combination of heritage, wildlife, recreation and trails and is built up from diverse landscape types that need to be maintained sympathetically. It may seem extraordinary that our unique environment and ancient heritage hasn’t already been recognized as a national treasure. AONB’s certainly no longer enjoy statutory protection against development, but must they be covered in concrete for others to recognize what we’ve lost? Designation as a National Park will prevent this.

Our habitat is far more complex than anyone imagines. It is combined of so many factors that we take for granted, including fresh air, dark night skies and rich farmland. Add to this the deep legacy of ancient stones, wells, waterways, thoroughfares and holy places and you begin to see the mysterious and wonderful tapestry beneath our feet.

Despite the natural wonders of our land and the remarkable civilisation of Britain in the 21st century, we are not thriving as we should. We can do so if we gather ourselves behind a vision of Cornwall and agree a clear strategy and practical plans for its achievement. This cannot be left to a tiny cabinet of local politicians. Together, we can overcome the heavy weights of low economic productivity per capita; a lack of wisdom in local planning; a failing health service with a dependent elderly population; a uniquely sensitive environment of natural beauty under attack from rampant development; an ancient and vital heritage that is dismissed as a minority interest; and harsh poverty suffered by some of the population.

The motto emblazoned on the emblem of Cornwall is ‘One and All’ and reminds us that the poorest as well as the most privileged can rub alongside one another. Indeed they must and the vision of National Park Cornwall gives us a common goal.

Why would we want to do this?

Thanks to the efforts of businesses supported by the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, pockets of the local economy such as agri-tech and food, high quality tourism, creative digital and others are slowly improving, but many are left behind. The fact that “25% of Cornish households are on the edge of poverty” (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2008) has resulted in us being described as either lifestyle or life-struggle Cornwall and nowhere is the effect of this more obvious than in the housing market. We have to find a way to build attractive homes in a low-income economy that allows ordinary people to have a good quality of life. A metropolitan and industrial way of life is wrong for Cornwall and disinherits more than it helps. We need a vision that builds on the strengths of our assets and is inclusive, so that we can all thrive. It requires that we think of Cornwall as a whole, not just elements of a free market. We’re in this boat together.

In the same way, our communities are corroded through grinding poverty and neglect on the one hand, and absentee landlords who buy-to-let on the other. Whilst Cornwall Community Foundation do sterling work to amend the gaping cavity left by the withdrawal of public money, successful social networks within small communities rely on the Herculean efforts of regular citizens or intelligent town and parish councils such as Port Isaac or St. Cleer. When money is short, the wholehearted involvement of local people becomes essential in helping us help ourselves. If we intend to become a National Park, our collective agreement and effort will become a vital part of the phenomenon.

The authority and sovereignty of National Park status will allow us to serve one and all, invigorate democracy, excite local enterprise, sustain pride in our land and care for one another. Ironically, this will also restore the virtue of central government. To ignore this, is to ignore the people.

ends

This article first appeared in the Western Morning News on Saturday 11th March 2017