Councils' housing figures 'unreliable'

Three West Midlands councils that submitted a joint local plan for examination must go back to the drawing board on their housing need figures after an inspector pointed out "fundamental shortcomings" in their evidence base.

Inspector Roger Clews said the supporting data for the draft South Worcestershire Development Plan's housing requirement, which states that 23,200 new homes are needed by 2030, was "unreliable".

In a letter, Clews told Malvern Hills District Council, Worcester City Council and Wychavon District Council that the number of homes required "is likely to be substantially higher". He advised them to re-calculate figures they produced after a strategic housing market assessment (SHMA) published last year.

Clews identified "three fundamental shortcomings" in the preparation of the SHMA which meant the plan "does not provide a sound basis for the planning of housing provision" in the area".

Firstly, he said, the household projection figures were based on council tax records for occupied properties rather than official data on population and households, producing a lower number compared to the latest census records.

Clews also questioned the reliability of the plan's job growth figures because they relied on a 2009 study that showed a decline in employment between 2010 and 2020, in contrast to other forecasts presented by housebuilders.

Thirdly, he flagged up a "lack of convincing evidence" to support the plan's suggested increases in older people's economic participation rates, which Clews said was used to justify lower household growth rates.

Matthew Spry, a director at consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, said it was important for councils to base their household projections on government Office for National Statistics data rather than trying to arrive at alternative figures using council tax records.

Richard Pestell, a senior associate at consultancy Peter Brett Associates, said: "Local authorities must make sure their economic aspirations and job figures are aligned with their housing numbers."

Pestell and Spry both pointed out the inspector's concerns about the plan's reliance on economic forecasts that were four years old. Spry said: "If you are going to take an economic growth-led approach, you have to make sure the evidence base for that growth is up-to-date and robust."

NLP and PBA represented housebuilders Miller Homes and David Wilson Homes respectively during the examination.

LOCAL PLAN UPDATES

- Cheshire East Council last week announced a further six-week consultation on its core strategy.

- North Tyneside Council published its draft local plan for consultation last week.

- The examination hearing for Brighton and Hove City Council's City Plan took place at the end of October.


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