Cornwall England's Most Divided County

By Dugan, Emily | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), July 27, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Cornwall England's Most Divided County


Dugan, Emily, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


As David Cameron and family join the smart set on the Cornish beaches, Emily Dugan sees the other side of a community mired in deep poverty

As David Camer-on arrives with his family in north Cornwall today, he will join an invading army of the well-heeled that heads down every summer to sample the white sand beaches and temperate weather in what is becoming a rich man's playground.

Crossing into the county along the A30, a sign saying "Welcome To Cornwall" is surrounded on all sides by verdant hills and hedge- rows spilling over with wild flowers. But the road to Rock and Padstow leads to a very different slice of Cornwall life.

As the only county in England to qualify for emergency EU funding, it is actually one of the poorest parts of Europe. A world away from the catamarans of its Kensington holidaymakers, the area is on the front line of the global credit crunch.

Cornwall was at the bottom of the table of wealth in a recent EU survey, level with former eastern bloc countries such as Slovakia and Slovenia. Taking 100 as the benchmark for wealth, Cornwall scored 77.4 - far below most of the EU. The average wage in the county is 17 per cent below the rest of the country, but because of its attraction for second-home owners and the retired, property prices are much higher than the UK norm.

John Ede, of Cornwall Citizens Advice, said: "Cornwall is a microcosm of what we're seeing nationally because of the credit crunch, but it's exaggerated by the earning to house price ratio. The people who visit here see the beaches, yellow sand and green fields and have absolutely no concept of the reality because the poverty is hidden."

The average visitor to the Cornwall Citizens Advice bureaux has just under 15,000 of unsecured debt - which does not include money owed in mortgages. The level of debt dealt with between January and March this year was nearly three times higher than expected, with more than 500 families in temporary accommodation after being evicted from their properties.

Driving into the tourist town of Truro - where a poky flat can go for 200,000 - it is easy to see why local residents have been left behind. David Palmer's family have lived in Truro for generations. The 52-year-old grandfather was pulling chips from a deep fat fryer last Wednesday at the Sole Plaice, where he has worked for the past 14 years. "You worry about the future," he grimaced. "My daughter had to move to Birmingham because she couldn't get any work and it will never be possible for my kids to own a house here. People come down here and buy properties which put the prices up, but the wages stay the same - we don't stand a chance."

The report published last week by Matthew Taylor, MP for Truro and St Austell, into rural housing highlighted the iniquities of a market inflated by outside interest that eliminated the property chances for local residents.

Andrew George, MP for West Cornwall, says the Government is turning the county into a developers' paradise. This week he launched a petition to campaign for better housing rights for his constituents. "The planning system is fuelled more by greed than by need," said Mr George.

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