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Cornwall seeks wide-ranging devolution deal

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Cornwall Council wants to remodel the county’s entire public sector estate with receipts pooled locally as part of a devolution package.

Its Case for Cornwall report, launched for public debate by leader John Pollard (Ind), also seeks devolved powers to control the proliferation of second homes, a single ‘blue light’ emergency service, co-investment with the government in geothermal energy and control over offshore development.

The report argued that Cornwall already had the right governance to handle devolved powers, being a unitary council covering a geographically and culturally distinct area.

A statement from Cllr Pollard said: “Cornwall has a clear border, the Cornish have minority status, we have one heritage and we are one council. These are the special attributes that devolution can and should capitalise upon.”

Central to Cornwall’s argument is that needs powers to deal with the impact of having high house prices – driven largely by the prevalence of second homes - but low salary levels relative to other rural areas.

Its pitch to the government includes seeking “a workable solution to manage the number of second homes and ensure that our communities remain sustainable”, and in the longer term, the retention of stamp duty paid within the county to support the construction of affordable housing.  

Cornwall’s report said the public sector estate should be rationalised with locally pooled capital receipts from vacated council, health, police and central government properties.

It said the council had halved its office estate to 90 buildings since gaining unitary status in 2009, and planned to cut this to 60 next year.

“There is huge potential to go further [but] fragmented estate management arrangements and national retention of capital receipts currently makes this impossible,” its report said.

“The local NHS estate provides a prime example. With responsibility shared across six NHS bodies, strategic direction and town based approaches are impossible to achieve.”

The single blue light service proposed would bring together the emergency centres provided by Cornwall Fire and Rescue, Devon and Cornwall Police and South West Ambulance Service Foundation Trust.

Cornwall also wants to co-invest with the government in developing geothermal power, which it described as “the significant renewable energy that is under our very feet”, and to take over functions from the Crown Estates and the Marine Management Organisation, giving “a more visible and accountable local governance structure that would allow for greater control over offshore planning and consenting decisions”.

Cornwall also seeks the first ‘earnback’ model in a rural area, under which it would retain and reinvest a proportion of the uplift in taxes and welfare savings where new jobs are generated by public investment, and to pilot local earmarking of 2p per litre from fuel duty for improved roads.

Picture Credit: Owen Cook

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