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Minack Theatre funds new greenfield roadbuilding plan in Cornwall AONB

A spectacular open air theatre on the cliffs in Cornwall now wants to transform its surroundings with a new greenfield bypass road funded by a major housing development in a highly sensitive and protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Although existing and alternative means of bringing visitors while protecting the unique local environment do exist, and are more economic and far less contentious, the Minack appears to have set the stage for a major scenery change.

The Porthcurno new road plans are revealed in the 2017 Action Plan of the Porthcurno Coastal Communities Team, or CCT. This quango was set up in 2015 to attract and channel grant funding for the benefit of the local community, and includes amongst its partners the National Trust, the Minack Theatre, the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, and the local residents' association. The full text of the item B1.5 of the Action Plan reads:

Link Road: initial conversations to be had with landowners to assess the feasibility of a new road before further consideration of this as a long term option. A feasibility study has been commissioned as a joint venture between the land owners and the Minack. ZC to share outcome of this study once it is known. Priority / Key Date: High

Notes: The high priority set for this item implies strong backing from the CCT, but that is problematic as it would in some cases conflict with the remits of members. ZC denotes Zoe Curnow, current manager of the Minack, an educational charity whose objectives are to support theatre. A Minack representative had openly claimed at a residents association meeting in February 2017 that the road would be funded by developers, implying a really major housing development scheme as roadbuilding is hugely expensive. Minack representatives have previously repeatedly claimed they cannot within the objects of the charity spend funds on highway matters, effectively refusing to pay for works to ameliorate the troubling effects of extreme Minack traffic, but presumably also ruling out funding for any roadbuilding study such as the present one. The identical item is apparently expected to appear in the 2018 CCT Action Plan when that is available.

The location of the new road and housing have not been revealed, leading to concerns that it could be not simply a bypass and development of the Rospletha settlement which would just rejoin the valley road with its many pinchpoints, but a truly major scheme that would connect Porthcurno to Porthgwarra or Raftra, or just proceed straight up the Porthcurno valley to the B3315, opening up the entire valley to housing and commercial development.

This naturally leads to fundamental questions, for the public and the charity commission, about how the Minack is run, how it spends, who benefits from it, and just what its true objectives are. It also raises very uncomfortable questions for National Trust members who have assumed the National Trust is committed to protecting the coastline and the AONB.

The National Trust did not in fact object to or even comment on a widely opposed carpark planning application on their doorstep by the Minack Theatre in 2017, to turn a greenfield clifftop site into a carpark, seriously and needlessly worsening traffic problems on the access road. This carpark would be visible from the coastpath and National Trust land across the Porthcurno bay to Treen Castle, having a seriously detrimental effect on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and violating numerous council policies. The carpark application was objected to by Cornwall's own official AONB unit, and by West Cornwall Friends of the Earth, and the local residents' association (PKRA), and forty-three other parties. Despite the Minack conceding they had no need for this parking, a solo council officer (not a public committee meeting) granted this carpark permission for two years, ensuring it remains a live and unresolved issue where the National Trust as neighbour and landscape guardian could intervene.

The elected County Councillor for this electoral division is Helen Hawkins, Liberal Democrat, first elected to represent this ward (called the St Buryan Ward) in 2017: helen.hawkins@cornwallcouncillors.org.uk. The St Buryan ward also includes Sennen, St Levan, St Buryan, Lamorna, Sancreed, and Newbridge.

Action Plan point B1.9 reports Zoe Curnow of the Minack discussing with the local bus company the appropriate size of buses on this route, in relation to delays they may cause. Do they want to make them smalller? These vital buses run full in summer and public transport is normally a higher priority than private car traffic. On this route in summer the large open-top double decker buses are hugely popular. Are the Minack really entitled to speak on behalf of bus passengers? Will they restrict the size of coaches coming to the Minack? And have the Minack published targets for how they will responsibly reduce year-on-year the number of vehicle movements associated with the Minack, as serious organisations do, rather than passively accepting all visitors coming by car?

You can download the full action plan here: