The ONS recently produced some new household projections. What are the implications for the number of houses we ‘need’ to build in Cornwall? Across England and Wales, the revised projections reduce estimates of future growth by up to 25%. In Cornwall the reduction is somewhat less, but still significant. The broad implications of the new projections are obvious. We don’t need as many houses as the political consensus claims we do. Not that this has received a great deal of attention in the media, London or Truro-based. Nonetheless, this seems an opportune time to revisit the data and sum up where we are. This blog updates the summary I wrote back in June.
What is the actual ‘local need’? The data are quite clear and are as follows.
Over the past decade (2006-16) deaths in Cornwall have outnumbered births by 4051. This means that with no net in-migration the population would be falling.
But as we know it isn’t. Population growth in the last decade is estimated to have been 35,703.
Therefore, net in-migration must be 39,754 (at most, as in 2001-11 the mid-year estimates exaggerated growth in Cornwall by about 15% – for more on the tendency to exaggerate growth in Cornwall see here, pages 20-21).
Any extra housing needed by the current resident population results from a falling household size (resulting in more houses for the same number of households). But the fall in household size has now slowed considerably and in Cornwall is predicted to fall only from 2.28 in 2016 to 2.26 in 2026. If the population were stable this would result in a requirement for an extra 2,150 houses over the next 10 years, or 215 houses a year, plus the replacement of any housing demolished as sub-standard.
But as natural change is negative then if net migration was zero there would be no need at all for any extra houses. In fact, we’d have a surplus of around 1,000 after 10 years. On that assumption and on an aggregate basis all the extra housing is for in-migrants, for second homes and for holiday lets.
But it doesn’t rest there. Most people would define ‘local need’ as need arising from the existing resident population. But the Council’s planners define it as demand arising in Cornwall from the current population AND from future migrants. This then relies on projections of migration, which have been notoriously inaccurate in the past.
At present the latest ONS household projections forecast an increase of 19,000 households over the next 10 years. (As we have seen, only 10% of that stems from the current resident population: 90% arises from in-migration.) This results in a requirement for at least 1,900 houses a year to accommodate this level of migration. Which produces a theoretical Local Plan figure of 38,000 over 20 years, which is what most parish councils and many of us in Cornwall were calling for back in 2012.
Instead, the current Local Plan has a figure of 2,625 a year, the last official net addition to stock figure for 2016-17 was just over 3,000 and Council leader, Lib Dem Adam Paynter recently boasted of an extra 3,400 houses ‘last year’. But who will live in all those surplus houses? Will they lie empty, be sold as second homes, or be aggressively marketed as speculative schemes for upcountry buyers, thus encouraging an uplift in net migration and irresponsibly locking us into a vicious circle of growth?
As a postscript, those intent on protecting developers’ profits will no doubt wheel out the familiar Trojan horse of ‘affordable housing’. Put aside the fact that changing Government definitions result in the word ‘affordable’ now being bizarrely applied to unaffordable housing. Any demand for affordable housing is more an issue of quality of housing, not quantity. Don’t be fooled by their double counting of ‘affordables’. Despite simplistic media coverage, well over 90% of those on the housing register are already living in houses, not caravans, tents, caves or cardboard boxes. If a household on the register moves into a new property it vacates an old one, which then becomes available for another household unless it’s immediately knocked down or converted to another use.