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Planning for Housing in England

Planning for Housing in England (full report)

The 2011 census raises big issues for planners. In particular, average household size had not fallen as expected between the censuses but stayed constant. It seems likely that the 2011 census results – and so official household projections by DCLG for England – were influenced by both the economic downturn and the effects of a long period of poor housing affordability.
In turn, this suggests that planning on the basis of these projections could lead to an under-provision of housing in some areas. In the light of this, should planners assume that household size will remain stable or resume, at least in part, the previous, falling trend? For some authorities that choice could affect the number of homes required by 30% or more.
This report, from research conducted for the RTPI by Neil McDonald and Peter Williams from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research at the University of Cambridge, suggests how planners and others might respond.
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.


The Department for Communities and Local Government's (DCLG) 2011 based household projections (published in April 2013) are the latest official household projections for England and take account of the 2011 census results. As suggested in planning guidance, they are the starting point estimates for looking at household growth and housing requirements.

Producing projections at a time when established trends have changed significantly is challenging. Those using the projections should be aware of their inevitable limitations and use them appropriately. 

The key issue is whether the trends that have been projected forward in the latest projections are likely to continue unchanged.


Authorities need to consider their own specific situation carefully in the light of what the latest projections suggest for their area. They should ensure that their plan is robust to the potential range of outcomes and review that plan regularly to see if changes are needed.

In using the projections as a starting point for considering likely levels of household growth at the local authority level the following issues should be taken into account:

  • To what extent has the pattern of household formation in the area been affected by an increase in international migrants? The volume international migration varies considerably from area to area – and with it the likely impact that increased international migration may have had on household formation patterns.
  • The extent to which household formation patterns have departed from previous trends. This can be investigated by comparing household formation rates in the latest projections with those which underpin the 2008-based projections. For some age groups in some authorities the latest projections suggest that household formation rates will continue to fall. Authorities will wish to consider whether this is a prudent basis on which to plan.
  • Whether there have been significant changes in the projected net flow to or from other local authorities. Where this is the case it may be a consequence of the use in the interim projections of flow rates from earlier projections. In such cases it might be appropriate to adjust the projected flows.

More help is also needed to enable to enable planners and other professionals to use them intelligently and confidently. As explained in the report, Government could help by:

  • Publishing in a simple and accessible form the past and projected data for the key drivers of change – births, deaths, flows in from and out to the rest of the UK and flows in from and out to the rest of world. 
  • Preparing sensitivity analysis at the local authority level. This would enable users to see what the implications for their authority would be of, say, higher births rates or a return to the household formation rates envisaged in the 2008-based projections. 

This research was funded through the RTPI's Small Projects Impact Research (SPIRe) scheme.

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