West Briton column 9 May 2013

Last week was spent in a wide range of meetings with constituents including talking to people on their doorsteps or on their street. But quite rightly the local news was dominated by the local elections. In most parts of Cornwall the majority of people who had the opportunity of voting for a Cornwall Councillor chose not to use it. This is nothing new. As someone who is passionate about our democracy I am concerned about this. Daily news from around the world reminds us of the enormous sacrifices people are making to bring democracy to their communities.

Grass roots democracy really matters because the issues closest to home matter. I believe local councils are better placed to tackle local challenges and opportunities than Westminster. So I was encouraged by the fact that more people put themselves forward as a candidate for a seat on a town or parish council. More councils were contested and I was delighted to see that 55% of the residents of Devoran and 49% of both Feock and Carnon Downs voted for a local councillor.

From my own experience, I know there are important local issues for people living in these communities. I know many people living here understand that at the heart of national policy is a power shift to local residents, enabling them to shape and protect the places where they live. I am pleased they are taking up the challenge of seizing this opportunity.

The Coalition has devolved a huge amount of decision making power from Westminster to Cornwall Council. With that power shift comes responsibility. I very much hope that both the returning and new Cornwall Councillors will respect the democratic mandate of local councillors on parish and town councils and work responsibly with people and communities to make the best possible decisions especially on planning our future.

During these times of challenge and opportunity the Duchy needs team players with a positive attitude. Local parish and town councillors working with both Cornwall Councillors and MPs to improve the quality of life for all.

Over the next few months the partnership of people led by Truro and Kenwyn Parish Councils who have created the Neighbourhood Plan for the area will again be seeking local views before the final plan is put to a vote of the people living in the area covered by the Plan.

However, before this can happen, Cornwall Council has to agree a Plan for Cornwall. That plan has to demonstrate that it is meeting the housing needs of Cornwall over the next few years. It is essential that local people have decent and genuinely affordable homes. It is vital that as new homes are planned, health and care services as well as schools, green spaces, water treatment, transport and places to work are planned too. All this needs to be done by Cornwall Councillors working much more closely with local councillors and local people. Until this Plan for Cornwall is approved we remain very vulnerable to speculative, unwanted development.

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