West Briton column 1 August 2013

As with every Summer families from across the UK, and indeed across the world, are heading to Cornwall to enjoy our spectacular landscape. From the rolling hedge-rowed hills, to the deep green woods and lanes, to the sparkling sea, the jewels that make our stunning Duchy are priceless assets to our economy, and blessings on the lives of all those who enjoy them.

With the Cornish countryside rejoicing under the summer sun, it is perhaps a good time to consider the future of this precious landscape of ours, and the threats it faces.

Some voices proclaim that there is only one threat- humanity. According to this narrative ever increasing human activity poses a growing threat to unspoilt nature. For me this argument simplifies the complex, and often harmonious, relationship between mankind and nature, and overlooks the role that economic activities have played in creating the Cornish landscape. From hedgerows first planted and pruned by Iron Age smallholders, to the emblematic engine houses built amidst the gorse during the tin years, to the ocean going ships that to this day enliven the waters of the Fal estuary, human activity has helped forge the way the Cornwall looks.

The challenge that faces us all is how best to ensure that the harmonious relationship between Cornwall and its people can be maintained. The Fal estuary, and the ongoing work to ensure that dredging can take place there whilst protecting marine habitats, is just one example of how important the relationship between the landscape and its population is to all our futures.

Many local residents feel that the recent increase in wind and solar farms in the Duchy threaten the harmony of this relationship. All too often in the past these developments have been imposed on communities, marring cherished local landscapes. Along with George Eustice and Sheryll Murray I have for some time been raising concerns about this. I am delighted that, following a visit to Cornwall, Energy Minister Greg Barker MP has announced that new guidance will be issued to local authorities on how to asses wind and solar farm applications. The views of the local community, and the impact such developments have upon on landscapes, will now be key considerations.

A similar focus on community views is now in place within the planning system concerning residential development. Concerns have been raised over a recent focus on large out of town developments built on green fields. Many feel that local-need driven genuinely affordable housing schemes, centered around converting empty properties into new homes, would be kinder to the environment. Thanks to the Localism Act communities can now come together to draw up neighborhood plans that can make such an approach a reality.

This community centered approach to local development embodies the concept of stewardship. This is the idea that those who live on the land should have the powers to decide its future; the ability to maintain the harmonious relationship between the Cornish and Cornwall that has helped create the landscape we know and love.

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