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Local Plan housing numbers: no method, just madness

July 21, 2020 10:33 AM

Warrington's Local Plan will be doomed to be met with public disapproval until the volume of housing growth is reduced. This requires action from both the council and the government.

I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with people about Warrington's Local Plan. The same concerns come up time and again - traffic congestion, protecting green spaces, school and health provision. Another consistent theme, which somewhat underpins the plan, is the overall volume of growth which the plan suggests. For all kinds of reasons, people do not feel that building in the region of 20,000 houses offers the right future for Warrington.

This number of course comes from the government's housing need methodology. This methodology is largely driven by a household growth projection and the government currently insists on using a projection based on 2014 numbers. The projection is regularly reviewed to reflect changes to social and economic trends. The differences between the 2014 projection and the most recent, 2018-based, projection are staggering.

Using the 2014-based numbers, adjusted for affordability (again part of the methodology), Warrington's housing need is 909 per year over the plan period. If you switch in the 2018-based household projection, the number becomes 530 per year - 7,580 fewer houses over the plan period. This means that the 10,600 new homes which Warrington would need could all be built within the existing urban area, with no Green Belt release. It also means that the focus of the Local Plan can be regenerating and repopulating our town centre, and doing so in a more sustainable way, including a shift away from car dependency. This would be difficult to imagine if you are unlocking swathes of Green Belt with a new distributor road to create more satellite settlements which are still based on car usage.

Housing 1

Housing 2

Warrington is not the only local authority to see a significant reduction in housing need by using more recent data. The two tables here show the impact on Greater Manchester's housing figures. No business or organisation would use six-year old data when more recent data is available, so will the government listen to calls from across the UK and update their housing methodology to use the latest data? I am reliably informed by Andy Carter MP that Robert Jenrick has promised such a review. It is questionable whether this will help Warrington given our stage in the Local Plan process.

Of course, the government are not the only villains of this piece. While their favouring of 2014-based projections may help with their 300,000 per year housing target, they will surely find other ways to reach that magic number if they wish. Meanwhile, Warrington Borough Council could and should have done more to argue that the borough's unique geography and historic development make mass growth impractical and undesirable.

We must have an urgent review of the housing methodology and Warrington Borough Council must add it's voice to the calls for this. With more manageable growth, we can focus on regeneration and infrastructure. We can still have a plan with the right homes in the right places with the right jobs and the right infrastructure.