Monday, 16 June 2014

City Council 12,000 new homes target based on obsolete figures

Turley report image:
'Forecasts have been developed using POPGROUP technology' 

Population growth forecasts used by Lancaster City Council to justify building 12,000 new homes in this area are based on old figures that have now been revised downwards (by half) by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The Green Party is calling for a complete overhaul of the housing targets and the Council has now commissioned a revised report.

Growth projections halved
The ONS released new population projections for Lancaster district last month. These forecast a much lower rate of population growth (half) than earlier ONS projections. The revised figures make obsolete Lancaster City Council's statement that 'the Lancaster district is likely to need an additional 12,000 new homes over the next 20 years to meet housing needs fuelled by an increasing population and a growing economy.' 
See previous story (23 May 2014 - '12,000 new homes locally? Council launches major planning consultation'.

Consultation based on obsolete projections
 It's unfortunate that the Council is now already halfway through a series of public consultation events asking the public to select locations and formats for 12,000 new homes, with an option of reviewing the green belt, as the report it is based on is invalid. Projected need is now less than half that figure - about 150 houses per year.  The Council told Virtual-Lancaster in May that 'Through the work we have done already we have found sufficient land to accommodate 7,000 new homes.' This is more than enough for the next 20-25 years, so there is no need to select even more sites.

Turley Associates, the independent consultant
The City Council's figures are quoted from a study they commissioned from consultancy Turley Associates, who have a history of keenly championing a more permissive approach to greenbelt housing developments.

Turley's website explains:
"The Council had previously assembled a substantial housing need evidence base and the commission was specifically targeted at modelling a range of potential dwelling requirements linked to associated demand generated from household growth. These were built to take account of a range of factors identified as having a direct bearing on the establishment of future need for housing in Lancaster, including natural change and migration as well as alternative levels of economic growth."

With the help of the City Council, Turley thus projected an increase in population of over 20,000 people in this area between 2011 and 2031.  The new ONS population growth projections show that:

  • Between the censuses of 2001 and 2011 the population actually increased by 3800. 
  • Between 2011 and 2021, the ONS is projecting an increase of 4,200. 
  • Previously the ONS had been projecting an increase of 8,500 people from 2011 to 2021
  • It now predicts an increase of 8,900 between 2011 and 2031, still based on an expectation of increased net migration.
  • This is already less than half the number (20,000) actually used by the city Council to predict local housing needs. 
The ONS population projections are used by government to inform household formation projections which government guidance says should, in turn, 'provide the starting point estimate of overall housing need.' As new ones were due so soon, it's particularly unfortunate that Turley's report just missed them.

Green councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox said:
"The ONS projection for population increase in Lancaster district has more than halved up to both 2021 and 2031. That means the household formation projections need to be reduced accordingly and Turley has used what are now out-of-date projections. The end result is that a requirement to plan for more than 12000 new homes by 2031 looks even more disconnected from reality. 

"The Green party is calling on the city council to undertake a complete overhaul of the housing target so that the amount of greenfield land being allocated for new homes in the draft plan is significantly reduced and matched more closely to likely population growth."

Economic Growth Projections - missing report
The local demographic is aging, and presumably will not all be needing their homes forever, but Turley have explained that the soaring economy predicted over the next 20 years will or should attract substantial net migration into the area on a scale possibly comparable with the Industrial Revolution.

Turley explained in their report that:
The actual level of employment growth likely to be seen over the plan period is difficult to accurately estimate and it is not the intended aim of this research to attempt to do this.
However, it is evident that the area is expected to see growth. 

Turley have cautiously added a covering note to their report (Page 63, footnote *32) stating:
"It is understood that the Council plans to commission a separate study to consider in more detail the future prospects of the economy and the implications for the allocation of employment land. The outputs of this regarding future job prospects will need to be considered in the context of the projections modelled in this report and may require future population and household projections to be run."

This City Council have told Virtual-Lancaster that this separate study, also commissioned from Turley, has not yet been completed. This is fortunate as it is likely to need considerable revision, if it is not to become so quickly obsolete as their first report.

Turley's first report suggests that their expectation of economic growth is mainly inspired by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a 'creative (i.e. unaccountable) collaboration of leaders from business, universities and local councils', who are perhaps planning for loss of housing availability around Fylde as land is consumed by fracking.

LEP explain an additional reason for their optimism on their website:

"Our Enterprise Zone is being developed at two world-class locations – BAE Systems’ sites at Samlesbury and Warton - where we are already gearing up for growth.  Up to 6,000 highly skilled jobs will be created directly, plus a further 5,000 to 7,000 in the local supply chain."

You can read more about arms-manufaturers BAE Systems  'Al-Yamamah' corruption scandal here.

New report commissioned. Government to blame. 
Labour Coun Janice Hanson, Cabinet member with responsibility for planning and regeneration, told Virtual Lancaster:

"It is important to be clear that the consultant's advice about numbers is just that - advice!

"No decisions have been taken by councillors yet and we are very keen to get the responses from our communities before decisions are taken.

"It’s equally important to say that we would much prefer to be considering growth needs over the next few years rather than the next twenty years as required by central Government.  Indeed the recently published figures by ONS demonstrate the pitfalls of the Government's approach.

"We will be asking Turley to recalculate based on the new figures and pointing out to Government the unpredictability of its twenty year timeframe."

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