Pride, amazement, exhilaration… three words that pretty much summed up initial local reaction to news of the 47th G7 summit location for 2021.
“Fancy,”I heard one shopper remarking to another in my local supermarket, “the Prime Minister choosing little old Cornwall for such an important meeting. Proper job, eh?”
From the comments appearing in the Cornish media following Boris Johnson’s January announcement that the G7 summit would be being held in Carbis Bay near St Ives, ‘proper job’ was a pretty fair description of how the whole of Cornwall was taking the news.
Normally, the spotlight was only trained on the place when something devastating or comic happened. But this summit put it firmly in the limelight and that, went the media line, could surely only be a good thing. Now the world would be being made aware of Cornwall’s beauty and Cornish guesthouse phones would start ringing off the hook bringing more bookings than the owners could possibly handle.
At a time of gloom and doom in the teeth of a pandemic that seemed to be going on forever, the general consensus was that such a ray of sunshine was just what the doctor ordered. With holiday bookings falling through the floor as the lockdown went on and on such exposure was a true lifeline putting Cornwall right up there when people were allowed out again.
So what, went the general talk amongst locals, was not to like?
Local farmer forsees the issues
“Well,” said those who’d looked a bit more deeply into the story than just the headlines – “maybe the disruption the summit will bring? Just getting the delegates and their entourages to the site is bound to cause problems.” The renowned narrowness of Cornish lanes – not least in and out of Newquay airport where the entourages will be parking their planes and where the roads are little wider than farm tracks – will be problem enough, a thought that had one local farmer I know grinning from ear to ear.
“I can see it now,” he smirked.”Bleddy gert lines of limos stretching back to the airport itself when the lead limo gets stuck behind a tracter which is behind a car pulling a caravan which is behind a JCB which is behind a lorry taking cows to market. Might mean the opening ceremony has to be delayed a bit until they all manage to squeeze past the ambulance coming the other way.”
“Pah!” said the summit supporters, refusing to be put off their stride by such Jeremiah talk. “We’ll manage. Yes, there might be a bit of disruption. But that’ll be far outweighed by the benefits.”
“Hmmm”, said the Jeremiahs. “Maybe. But we’re reserving judgement until we have more details.”
Well now we do. And now we know the full extent of the disruption, the Jeremiahs are starting to outnumber those in the Cornish glee club.
Reality starts to bite
It started when the hotel in which the summit will be staged started clearing some nearby woodland for ‘security reasons’, got more vocal when it emerged it’d done so without planning permission and then began getting heated when it was reported that Cornwall Council was being reluctant to step in and stop it.
After that, things started going downhill by the day reaching a trough when the full extent of road blocks round the summit site were revealed. I’d personally seen fewer in Uganda at the peak of Idi Amin’s murderous tyranny in the seventies or in Brighton when Margaret Thatcher thumbed her nose at the IRA by bringing the Tory party conference back to the town a couple of years after the Brighton bomb in the eighties.
Local residents and businesses around the summit site were not amused. And from the roadblock map it was clear it wouldn’t be just Carbis Bay being affected. Similar disruption was expected in other centres where extracurricular summit activities were due to take place, not least where hordes of environmentalists were planning to protest the event.
By late May the direction of travel of sentiment was clear. More and more people were turning against the summit. And when it emerged that homeless people would be being thrown out of their hostels to make way for summit staff, police by their thousands were being drafted in to secure the area and fishermen would be being denied access to waters stretching out miles from the summit site, things reached boiling point. The grumblings increased until they spilled over into all out Cornish muttering.
Even the local media got in on the act and began backtracking on how the event would benefit Cornwall. Maybe not so much as we previously thought, was the new line. Not least because in the weeks leading up to the summit, as the sun came out and the lockdown was relaxed, everyone in the world seemed to be heading for the Cornish beaches.
Can Cornwall cope?
Not yet allowed to fly to more exotic locations, they seemed to have decided that Cornwall was the new Costa Brava and those who said the county’s tourist sector needed more exposure rapidly began changing their tune.
“Help!” they were now screaming. “Someone stop them! We’re full!” And it wasn’t just the locals saying it. AirBnB’s boss went on the record saying that for the first time ever it was receiving more enquiries about places to let in Cornwall than it was for London.
As encouraging as that was for the letting business it wasn’t as warmly welcomed by some in the hospitality sector. In the aftermath of peak pandemic and Brexit, many bars and restaurants were having trouble finding enough staff to cope with the influx and some owners had begun privately expressing their displeasure over the summit putting Cornwall even more on the map.
“So… still a proper job?” I asked one.
Not wanting to be seen to be a pariah in the local business community she had the good sense to stay mum. But her eyes said it all.
Maybe ‘IMproper‘ might be closer to the mark, they said.