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Local Authorities risk undersupply of housing by overreliance on Government data

20 January 2014

TrudiswNew research published today suggests that local councils in England may be underestimating housing need by up to 30% in some cases, due to an overreliance on Government household projection data, according to the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Pictured: Trudi Elliott on BBC's Sunday Politics SW discussing the implications of the research.

Commissioned by the RTPI, the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Housing and Planning Research examined the Department of Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) household projection figures and suggest that in some cases the projections are likely to poorly reflect likely local household need. Government’s household projections form the basis for calculating housing need in councils’ Local Plans, which determines how much housing is planned for an area.

The key issues are whether councils treat the Government projections as a starting point which can be varied according to robust local evidence, and how practical it is for them to produce a robust evidence base that will be accepted by the Planning Inspectorate when it examines the Local Plan.

Cath Ranson, President of the RTPI, said: “The research emphasises the need for local councils to treat Government household projections as a starting point, not an end point when calculating how much housing they need to plan for in their area. A rigid adherence to household projection figures may lead to too few houses being built in some areas and an oversupply in others.”

In order to empower local councils produce a robust local evidence base, the RTPI is calling for the Government to provide sensitivity analysis at the local authority level so that users can gauge the amount of uncertainty they need to plan for, and to publish in an easily accessible form data showing how the projections for key drivers of change – birth, deaths and flows into and out of a local authority – relate to what has happened in the recent past.

Household projection figures are based on the census results. The 2011 census showed that average household size did not fall as expected, but stayed constant. Research suggests that this is because the 2011 census results were influenced by increased international migration, the economic downturn and the effects of a long period of poor housing affordability. Changes in international migration patterns and economic conditions are likely to mean that basing plans on the household projection figures alone could lead to an under-provision of housing in some areas.

Alongside the report, the researchers have also developed a spread sheet tool that enables planners and others to:

  • find out how the household projections for any given English local authority have changed between the Department for Communities and Local Government's 2008-based projections and the 2011-based interim projections released in April 2013.
  • explore three key factors which are particularly important to understanding the latest projections and how they should be used. The factors are changing household formation trends; increased international migration; and, how the flows between authorities have been estimated. The role they play is discussed more fully in the research report.

The spread sheet tool can be found here.

Trudi Elliott, Chief Executive of the RTPI, was interviewed on the BBC's Sunday Politics about the research. The package can be see here for the next 6 days (from 40 mins into the programme).