Lanner villagers left baffled by ferocity of row over plan for affordable homes
Visitors driving along the busy A393 on their way to and from the holiday hotspots of Portreath and Truro probably don't give Lanner a second glance.
A village of 2,500, roughly straddling a two-mile stretch of the road, it does not feature in tourism brochures.
Untidy and scattered, the tightly-packed terraces of tinners' cottages jostle pell-mell with estates of bungalows that have sprung up since the 1960s with little regard to aesthetics. Yet despite the random nature of these developments, Lanner has become a planning battleground in recent months.
To the casual observer, it looks like a village that has never been subject to normal planning laws. It's that sort of village, a muddling along sort of place. With very few pretensions, it is what some would call "solid".
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Before we go any further, I must perhaps "declare an interest". Having grown up there, I feel able to explain why a place outsiders might consider a less-than-picturesque corner of Cornwall evokes such passions. Despite its looks, Lanner has a real heart and a fierce independence. As the saying goes, "you can take the boy out of Lanner but you can't take Lanner out of the boy" – and a small piece of my heart will always dwell there.
And that's the crux of the issue currently troubling its inhabitants: the perennial battle between the status quo and progress. At its heart is an unlovely patch of former mining land on the edge of the village. Battle lines were drawn when developers announced plans to build 25 "affordable" properties at Tresavean.
The plot – once part of the huge Tresavean Mine complex – is currently used for grazing ponies.
On one side of the argument stands Cornwall Council, in the guise of Lanner resident, former South Crofty miner and councillor, Mark Kaczmarek. Cornwall Council, which identified what it says is considerable local need for more housing in the village, supported an application by Coastline Housing Ltd to build on the site.
In the other corner are the members of Lanner Parish Council, who dispute Cornwall Council's figures on the need for increased provision. Since early last year they have opposed the development, even opting for a judicial review in the hope of overturning planning consent.
And in the middle are Lanner's two-and-a-half-thousand residents, most of whom, it seems, are not bothered either way. As with most issues (gay marriage, EU membership), it is the politicians – perhaps with an eye on the next election – who become most vexed. Lanner is no different.
Boasting a bakery, chip shop, two pubs, general store, post office, Spar, petrol station and playing field, it is hardly rich in amenities, despite a large (and possibly growing) population. It also has two churches, a silver band, part-time surgery and even a dance studio.
So what does the man on the street think about turning another greenfield site over to housing? Talking to residents along its long main road, it is soon clear that villagers can be roughly divided into distinct groups: those who either don't know (this is a geographically large village), don't care about the development (by far the majority) and the two polarised pro and anti camps.
At Portreath Bakery, Ginette Thomas said she broadly supported the plans, adding that two of her sons were hoping to buy a house in the village.
"I haven't got a problem with it if it's for local people, for genuine working people," she said. "My sons are Lanner boys and they would like to find an affordable place in Lanner and live here, so it might be good for them."
Another long-term resident, who did not want to give his name, said he agreed, adding: "They knocked down the old school to put up houses a few years back, so I can't see any difference."
But retired computer manager David Warden, whose house on Tresavean Estate will overlook the new development, disagrees, saying he fears if 25 houses are allowed, more applications will follow.
"Over time they have talked about up to 90 properties over there," he said. "This little road, where all the children play outside, is going to become a motorway. It won't be safe any more."
Mr Warden, who was born in Redruth, also questioned the suitability of using post-industrial land for building and questioned whether the village needed more housing.
"They talk about local need," he said. "But there are probably 30 empty houses in Lanner. If these were done up and made suitable to live in, we wouldn't need these new-builds. Surely it is better to bring empty properties back into use, using local builders and local materials, than bring in a big national firm with no benefit to the local economy.
"Everyone's talking about local need. If you ask someone in Redruth they might tell you we need hundreds of houses – but as far as I can see there's no need for any more in Lanner."
Cornwall Council's Homechoice Register currently has 51 applicants who claim a local connection to Lanner. The parish council has contested the figures, saying CC's methods are flawed, and added that while it had "no desire to obstruct any proposal which will resolve genuine needs for affordable homes by parishioners" it could not support the application.
In an angry response to the parish council, Councillor Kaczmarek accused its members of acting in a way that was "irresponsible and detrimental to the parish and people living within or connected with it".
As with so many contested developments, "local need" is a much-bandied phrase – which inevitably leads to the question of who is "local". Is it only someone who can trace his forebears in the area back to medieval times? Is it the children of parents who chose to live and work and contribute to the community over a period of decades and who now need first-time homes? Is it a couple who left their village 40 years ago to live in London and now want to retire back home? Or is it all of them?
In the end, after months of wrangling, claim and counter-claim, legal challenges and acrimonious slanging matches, it seems likely that Coastline's plan to build 25 homes at Tresavean will go ahead.
So it might be worth reflecting that Lanner takes its name from the Cornish word "lannergh", which is translated into the English "clearing". We can only hope that once the houses are built and occupied, combatants on both sides will be clearing their differences, putting the row behind them and moving on.