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Cornish village unites in bid to breakaway

Cornish village unites in bid to breakaway

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 6:53am 10th March 2020. (Updated at 1:54pm 10th March 2020)

Written by Richard Whitehouse, Local Democracy Reporter

Friday night in Heamoor and dozens of villagers have come along to the Royal British Legion united in their desire to exercise their local democracy and take control of their future.

Dozens of seats are lined up in front of a few tables with handwritten namecards for the various speakers gathered to answer the questions of Heamoor residents.

The village, which lies a little over a mile from Penzance, has launched a bid to breakaway from Penzance Town Council and create a new Heamoor Village Council.

As people take their seats, overlooked by a portrait of the Queen which has been knocked at an angle, there is a sense of revolution in the air.

Stephen Reynolds, a local resident who has been a driving force for the steering group trying to get the new council established, is the first to speak.

He explained how the steering group became aware that Cornwall Council is undertaking a community governance review which is looking at whether any town or parish council boundaries should be changed.

This, he says, is an opportunity for the community to take back control and determine how they would like to be governed in the future.

Mr Reynolds, whose enthusiasm for Heamoor and the village council idea is infectious, says that a petition was signed by more than 400 villagers who were in favour of change.

“That is far more than anywhere else in Cornwall,” he states proudly, a broad smile on his face.

However, he then adds that the community governance review has made a recommendation that there should be “no change” in Heamoor, that it should remain within the boundary of Penzance Town Council.

But there is hope. Cornwall Council officials have admitted that the issue is “finely balanced” and the final recommendation could be different.

Public consultation on the matter finishes on March 24 and Stephen is keen for everyone in Heamoor to make sure they have their say.

“If the village is successful, which we hope it will be, in July this year a shadow council would be set up, probably from the steering group,” said Mr Reynolds. “The village council would then be set up in May 2021.”

Bonnie Jackson, who is currently a Penzance Town Councillor for Heamoor, in opening her comments to the meeting said that it is “for Heamoor to decide what to do”.

She explained that she doesn’t actually live in Heamoor but added: “I have enjoyed being a councillor for Heamoor and I would be disappointed if you did change. This is important, Heamoor is an important part of Penzance.”

One of the key reasons that Heamoor is looking to strike out on its own is that many feel that money paid to Penzance Town Council through council tax is not being used to benefit the village.

The steering group has previously claimed that while the town council collects around £167,000 a year from Heamoor just a fraction of that is invested back into Heamoor, with one suggestion that just £8,000 was allocated in the current year.

Penzance Town councillor Dick Cliffe was keen to highlight to the meeting that the money spent by the town council was on providing services in the town that would be used by many people including Heamoor residents.

He said he welcomed the “community activism” that Heamoor had shown in forming the steering group.

He said: “Any parish and community has the right to seek an alternative. We wouldn’t want to obstruct that in any way.”

But he warned: “Small parishes have very little edict with Cornwall Council. They can’t actually have their own agenda.”

He said that the town council had “more clout” when dealing with the unitary council and was able to get things done.

Cllr Cliffe claimed that Heamoor had to do more to show the town council what it wanted , saying that the communities were “better together”.

One member of the public said that while Cllr Cliffe spoke of the small distance between Penzance and Heamoor he forgot one matter. “There is a huge barrier – the A30. They don’t think about us and we don’t think about them.”

Another said: “I want to know where my money is going. If we had our own council the people in the village will be able to say what they want in the village and pay the money to do it. The town council seems to be fearful of losing that money.”

Cllr Cliffe highlighted that when he joined the town council in 2013 there were no elections held in Heamoor because nobody came forward to stand. He said that councillors had to be found from outside the village.

“We want to have more influence,” said one villager, “at the moment we are totally outnumbered.”

Another gentleman said that he had his groceries delivered by Tesco and had no need to go into the town for its services.

“The only reason I go into Penzance is to get my hair cut,” he said. “I can’t afford to shop in Penzance.”

Mr Reynolds said that while Heamoor wanted to take back control it also wanted to remain friends with Penzance. He said the village council would work together with the town council on common issues, suggesting that if there was a project that would have wider benefit then it could contribute.

He added: “We are Heamoor. We have had people come to us with the issues that they see with the likes of footpaths and other things.

“It is about Heamoor issues, real Heamoor issues. People here want to be able to protect their footpaths, fields and trees.

“How much more effective it would be if we could do it ourselves. Let’s speak with one voice on Heamoor issues and then speak together with the town council on Penzance issues.”

To close the meeting there was a show of hands of who would be in favour of a Heamoor Village Council – among residents there was almost universal support with just a few remaining undecided.

The only hands raised in opposition came from the Penzance town councillors present.

It seems like a quiet revolution in this corner of Cornwall could be about to get a lot louder.

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