Over the last fifteen years or so we have seen some significant changes to our local community. Some would say nothing short of a transformation. These changes result from a determined plan not only to provide more and better education and skills opportunities for local people but to grow the local economy by creating Falmouth University and attracting the University of Exeter to Penryn. At the same time Falmouth Marine School has also been redeveloped.
There is no doubt that these universities have been successful in attracting world class academics and students from across Cornwall and the world. Since setting up at Penryn, Exeter University has joined the prestigious Russell Group of universities that are the best of British research led universities and Falmouth has become the UK’s top arts university.
There can be few families in Falmouth or Penryn that do not have a family member or someone that they know who has either studied or worked at one of the universities, or helped build the universities or works for one of the many companies that provide services for the institutions or their students. Many of the staff are active citizens and are contributing in a wide range of ways to the local community. Some students have stayed in the area and set up vibrant companies, such as Rebel Brewery. Local companies employ graduates who are helping them grow their businesses here. Local people are supported at the Penryn campus to set up and develop their businesses here.
While both towns are vibrant, there have of course been growing pains. Most significantly the impact on house prices and the availability of good quality homes to rent or buy for local people. There has also been an increase in anti-social behavior and parking problems too.
The total number of students in Falmouth, Penryn and Truro are set to grow from the current population of about 6,300 to 8,600 by 2020. The University of Exeter and Falmouth University are currently consulting the local community on their plans, including to build accommodation for more than 1,000 new beds on their campus in Penryn as well as converting a number of possible locations in Falmouth and Penryn into purpose built accommodation.
While I do support this planned growth over the next few years, I feel much more could be done to develop purpose built student accommodation in Truro on land that has already been given planning permission. This would build on the success of providing homes for students at Treliske, where the University of Exeter has a base. The Maritime Line between Falmouth and Truro enable commuting for students and staff of the universities. The partnership between local bus service providers and the universities has improved bus services locally and this work could also be built upon.
At the same time Cornwall Council needs to work much more closely and effectively with Falmouth, Penryn as well as Truro City Councils to meet the housing needs of local people as well as working with partners to deliver the infrastructure we need to support our growing community. The top priority should be developing more community based NHS services, led by our innovative and forward local GPs.
The continued rise of housing costs over recent decades have hit those earning modest incomes very hard. If we are to reduce housing costs for average and low income families we have to reform the private rented sector, which provides homes for many local people. Cornwall Council has not used all the powers it already has including the Article 4 Direction and needs to do so, as plans are drawn up for Falmouth & Penryn.
While the vast majority of tenants in the private rented sector in Cornwall receive a satisfactory service from their landlords, a small number of landlords act unlawfully, and place tenants in overcrowded or poorly maintained accommodation.
Cornwall Council was recently awarded £127,500 to tackle rogue landlords in the private rented sector after it successfully bid for funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
The DCLG funding aims to crack down on this minority of landlords by providing funding to selected local authorities who have a large proportion of private rented housing stock. Cornwall Council is using this money to improve the skills of investigating officers and increase enforcement activity.
This money along with recent legislation, means Cornwall Council will have stronger powers and incentives to tackle ‘rogue’ landlords, including a database of rogue landlords and property agents, fines of up to £30,000 and the introduction of Banning Orders for the first time.
I am pleased that as a result of reforms introduced since 2010, more ‘council’ homes have been built locally and a range of housing options are available to enable more local people to part own or buy their own homes. This government is determined to reverse the trend of people not being able to afford to own their own home. There is a wide range of support from help with a deposit to discounts on the purchase price. We do however need the support of Cornwall Council and the local community in enabling more homes to be built as well as playing their part in enabling the infrastructure to support a growing community.
Published by Wave Magazine.