Saturday 7 May 2016


Yesterday, Friday 6, in the early hours, the result of Thursday's St Ives referendum was revealed. The town and its surrounding areas had just had the opportunity to vote on a St Ives Neighbourhood Plan that had been drawn together after nearly two years of consultation to present a consensus of public opinion within the 12,000 strong community in the St Ives area. In the magical name of 'Devolution', Neighbourhood Plans have surfaced across the country. They allow a small measure of legally-binding local control over the planning process. But in the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan something remarkable enough to attract national media attention appeared. Along with the detail that sought to protect buildings and spaces of heritage and cultural value, and meet the needs of an ageing

Voted best place to live in the UK - (if you can afford to)

population, and safeguard trees, woodlands and hedges. We are talking about the St Ives Plan's 'prime residency' policy, applicable only for new builds, that would prevent them being sold as second homes, in order to help provide affordable housing for local people trying to acquire their own first home.

The result of the referendum was as remarkable as the measure itself to exclude second home owners from the ownership of new builds. The local press had carried stories that gave much attention to the cries of property speculators and builders. The Cornishman opted for the headline: 'Will St Ives say 'no' to local plan?  The answer was emphatic. St Ives said 'Yes!'

In a turnout of 47.2%, there were 3075 YES votes and 616 NO votes with 4 spoiled papers. Subject to formal adoption of  the Plan by Cornwall Council, the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan has been voted in by an 83% majority of voters in St Ives, Carbis Bay, Lelant, and Halestown. We had said 'No!' to new builds as second homes.

How splendid that events in St Ives can become a focus for national debate about the housing crisis and the exclusion of generations from any realistic hope of housing security let alone home ownership. But let us be clear. There is also a sense that the housing measure in the Neighbourhood Plan is a case of shutting the door after the horse has bolted. And this thought brings me to the second part of  my linked blog: Rob addresses FOSILS.

I gave a talk to FOSILS, the friends of the St Ives library service, on Wednesday evening about myself and my books, The Road to Corbyn and the biography of Jago Stone, a most unusual artist. It was the evening before we voted YES in the St Ives referendum and put our cross next to the Labour candidate, Gareth Derrick, for the Police and Crime Commissioner post in Devon and Cornwall (Gareth lost to the Conservative candidate, Alison Hernandez, by only 3000 votes and that Conservative victor may well find herself the subject of her own investigations in relation to the election scandal exposed by Channel 4 news and Michael Crick - but that's for another blog). By chance, I had been able to secure the services of a St Ives photographer, Leo Walker and his Lightwaves Photography, to take images at the talk and a photoshoot around St Ives harbour beforehand. Leo's skills and professionalism are self-evident in the photos below. But I want not only to share these photo images but his thoughts about St Ives and its housing problems.

Rob goes on his first photoshoot

Leo - as a St Ives native, the son of the late Roy Walker, a talented St Ives artist - put into words the truth that is disturbingly self-evident at times. The former identity of St Ives as a living community of residents has disappeared.  The old St Ives has died. I think St Ives as a living community still exists but it has morphed into something different. It is no longer based on residence in the heart of St Ives. How could it be when property there now sells for sums approaching and exceeding £1million?

Louise and I watched a similar phenomenon in East Anglia when we lived there. The children who  were born in Southwold or Walberswick to ordinary folk were never likely to be able to afford to live as adults in their own town or village unless they inherited their parent's property.  Why? The death of council housing - slaughtered by Thatcherism and Blairism. Never forget that by 1970, house building, both private and public, had continued to the point where there was a home for everyone. And throughout this time - from the late 1940s to 1970 - house prices remained stable and low. The Interpreter tells the story well in my 'The Road to Corbyn', due out this summer. What befell such sane and decent government? In one word, 'commodification'. 'What happened is a prime illustration of the power of Mammon'.

I give you the enemy. Mammon.

Leo and I - and an ever increasing number of people - say the answer is a return to building council houses. No ifs or buts. The younger generations have been sold down the river for too long. They deserve nothing less.


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