So much for “objectivity”.
The more I sat there and listened to the director of the GL Hearn planning consultancy trying to explain the numbers, the more I realised what a cosy little world exists between these highly rewarded professionals and the local planning authority [LPA] apparatchiks. He claimed he had already appeared at, at least, four PINS public enquiries into submitted Local Plans in the last few months, so knew exactly what he was talking about. However, when challenged on simple facts of the SHMA Guidance issued in 2007 concerning the types of stakeholders with which he was required to engage to inform his company’s consideration of the “objectively assessed” number of houses, he singularly failed.
Overall the new SHMA sets a target of 800 homes per year – that’s over 12,000 new homes in the plan period or an increase in 25% of the GBC housing stock. No explanation of how it was “objectively” determined, no rational methodology presented, no clever statistical forecasting package, no econometric model, in fact not “objective” at all. It just seemed a good idea, apparently.
Then a bit of confusion between the “objective” number of houses needed per year (671) based on the Office of National Statistics [ONS] population forecasts, different to the number based on local data sources (660). Even more confusion when a target of 718 affordable homes popped up. Well, there is some of it in the 800 but we don’t get told how much; the 671 and the 718 are mutually exclusive and don’t just get added together. To add to that confusion, there’s a forecast of 720 new jobs per year from Experian thrown in. It seems that is assessed on the basis of one new job = one new resident = one new dwelling but that’s mutually exclusive too. If you want to read through the confusing morass of sources and statistics, download the SHMA report documents from the “Get Involved” area of the GBC web site.
In 2009, GBC challenged the previous government imposed SE Plan housing number of 422 in a legal case on the basis that this would have prejudiced the character of the area and forced it to release Green Belt land. It’s not clear why doubling the number three years later will not prejudice the character of the area now.
Then there’s the housing needs assessments carried out by parish councils. A number of parish council representatives asked why hadn’t they been consulted about their existing housing needs assessments that could contribute to a bottom-up process to determine “housing need” across the borough. Why, the consultant was asked, when the borough register of those in housing need had remained relatively static over the last few years at somewhere around 3,000, was his organisation forecasting for a rising supply of affordable homes? Well, the assembled audience had spotted the flaw, these forecasts aren’t to fulfill ‘need’ in that sense, oh no, they are to fulfill ‘demand’; that is to say, demand from house builders to build lots of houses in the Green Belt and make lots of profits.
If it needed any confirmation that ‘need’ and ‘demand’ are being deliberately conflated then take a look look at the government Planning Guidance web site under “Housing and development needs assessment“, where the definition of ‘need’, as far as this government is concerned, can be found…
“Need for housing in the context of the guidance refers to the scale and mix of housing and the range of tenures that is likely to be needed in the housing market area over the plan period – and should cater for the housing demand of the area and identify the scale of housing supply necessary to meet that demand.”
Officially, GBC are giving us all until Monday 10 February 2014 to submit our response during the consultation opportunity. As result of yesterday’s meeting, this might be extended to 21 days or 4 weeks but don’t hold your breath.