Pinning The Population Tail on the Planning Donkey

At the bottom of the confrontational drive to build on green fields lies population forecasts.  Current forecasts use 2001 census data, with convoluted adjustments thrown into the mix to try and reflect the substantial changes in population trends over the last 11 years  eg immigration levels from Eastern Europe.  Would it not be simpler and more sensible to work on the 2011 census actual population figures, now we have them?

With so many towns and villages across the country facing a decrease in well-being due to inappropriate (not to say unsustainable) development, whilst large areas in need of regeneration are left to wither, would it not be better to get the base assumptions right as a matter of urgency?  Would that not ease arguments, and generate more trust, in the pursuit of the well-being that the economy badly needs?  What is the economic cost of unhappy people fighting to preserve living standards, when they could be enthusiastically rebuilding British industry?

Yet, although national population estimates for England and Wales are due out on 16th July 2012, (later than promised)  those for individual areas will not be published for nearly another year, May 2013; whilst the forward projections are not due until 2014!   By that time most local development frameworks will be adopted and neighbourhood plans will be required to be in ‘general conformity’.   So,  what happens when a 2001 based 23% population increase forecast to 2028, turns out on 2011 figures to be only 7% .   Will it be back to the drawing board for the LDF?  Will neighbourhood plans be allowed to use the new evidence rather than have to conform to the old?

The other linked issue is where these ‘unverified’ house numbers are to be built?  Despite reassurances of brown field first in the NPPF,  greenbelt sites are still under threat from volume housing developers, and a planning system that gives them unlimited right to appeal when permission refused.  So, why is there not more regeneration of old and empty houses as the first port of call, especially whilst population data is being validated?

This issue was raised for Leeds by Stuart Andrew, MP for Pudsey,  in the House of Commons on Monday 2nd July in an open question session.  “What steps is he taking to promote refurbishment of empty and vacant homes.” Stuart asked of Eric Pickles?

Eric Pickles – “We have introduced a series of measures to get empty homes back into use, which are backed up by our commitment of £160 million of central Government funding. That is in contrast to the last Government’s pathfinder programme, which was more interested in bulldozing Victorian terraces than refurbishing empty homes.”

Stuart Andrew – “I am grateful for that answer. Constituents of mine in Pudsey are extremely concerned about the deluge of recent planning applications on greenfield and protected area of search (PAS) sites, given that as of October 2011 the number of empty properties in Leeds stood at nearly 14,000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be better to bring those homes back into use than to destroy our green spaces?”

Eric Pickles – “I know my hon. Friend’s constituency well and am a frequent visitor there. He is right to point out the number of empty homes within the Leeds city boundaries, as it is one reason why we have been so keen to have the new homes bonus there, in order to bring long-term empty properties back into use. We would be doing well if we brought some of the fine architecture of Leeds—those wonderful terraced properties—back into use.”

There is a similar story in Bradford: as a result Wharfedale’s Cllr Chris Greaves, and Craven’s Cllr Adrian Naylor, have submitted a motion for debate on 10th July, by the full Council, proposing that the assumptions for the more than 45,000 houses planned for the Bradford District by independently verified.   Evidence, is after all, crucial we are told at neighbourhood planning level.

As Cllr Naylor told the Telegraph and Argus “The LDF is the foundation on which we will build the future of the district, we want to ensure that foundation is sound. “   Quite so,  pinning the tail on the donkey, blindfold,  is fun for children, but not when their’s, their children, and their children’s children lives are at stake.