Government ignores ONS; hopes for January GMSF consultation

After a drop in population estimates from the Office for National Statistics threw the creation of Local Plans and the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework into a spin this summer, the Government has now advised councils to ignore the figures and press on with their previous targets.

On Friday, a statement from the Department for Communities, Housing & Local Government laid out the Government’s three aims; to provide stability and certainty for planning authorities, ensure planning responds to projected households but also price signals, and deliver “a housing market that works for everyone”.

Based on these goals, the statement advised councils to ignore the latest set of ONS figures, which downgraded population and housing estimates based on research from 2016, and return to “2014-based data which will provide the demographic baseline for assessment of local housing need”.

The Government also warned local authorities that they will not get away with lower housing numbers based on the 2016 projections, as these “do not qualify as justification to depart from the standard methodology”.

A review on the formula used to work out housing need is yet to come, so questions remain over the correct figures, however the Government is unlikely to scale them back as it continues to push for a national target of 300,000 homes.

The Government’s decision to ignore the latest ONS set of results will come as a source of relief to some and frustration for others. Given the backdrop of delays and debate over the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, the surprise ONS figures led to another summer and autumn of flux for the City Region’s planners.

In July, population projections released by the ONS showed a slower rate of growth nationally than expected. These then had a knock-on impact on the Sub National Housing Figures announced at the start of October, which saw the number of homes supposedly needed across the country also reduced.

In response, in July Mayor Andy Burnham delayed the rewrite of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework further in order to factor in the new ONS figures, and then delayed it again in October while the Greater Manchester Combined Authority waited for Government guidance on the housing targets.

The downgraded population figures would have dropped housing targets in Greater Manchester to 154,000 homes over a 20-year period, undermining the GMSF’s goal of 211,000.

This was briefly good news for the Mayor’s office, as a drop in housing need would help Burnham stick to one of his key election pledges by undermining the argument for Green Belt release. The Mayor and the 10 local authorities have been at loggerheads over the targets, as particularly Northern boroughs have called for greater ambition and the release of key sites for much-needed job creation, irrespective of Green Belt status.

After the Government’s statement on Friday, the housing target in the GMSF is expected to stay at the 211,000-mark, as the estimate was based off the ONS 2014 figures.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is expected to meet in November to confirm this approach, with a view to finally putting the redraft out to public consultation in January.

The GMSF has been marred with delays. The process began in 2014 and a first draft was complete by 2016. However, there was public objection in several areas over the level of Green Belt release and high housing targets, and Burnham vowed to rewrite it once he become Mayor in May 2017. Since then, work has been ongoing, while many in the property community become increasingly cynical about whether the plan will ever be realised.

The GMCA and Andy Burnham have been contacted for comment.

Your Comments

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No need to seek comment from Burnham, it’ll be his usual – shift the blame to Westminster

By excuses

Great news on keeping housing numbers up. Can we get rid of Burnham now, he is absolutely useless

By BurnhamOut

Glad to see the failed labour politician from Liverpool Mr Burnham is starting to be seen for what he is, a complete waste of time, space and tax payers money

By Brooklands resi

Does anyone know the real population figures at present for our cities and real growth forecasts, it seems ludicrous that we can’t even forecast this basic data when so much depends upon it, not only housing, but jobs, transport, schools and medical provision.
You search on diffrent web sites and the population varies depending on what methodolgy or criteia was used and quite a few are out of date. How can we plan ahead on this basis?

By Emperor of the North

@Brooklands resi, a small hint of regional discrimination here I think?

By Just saying

What on earth is the point of having the ONS do all the expensive work in obtaining the figure for the Gov to ignore them? So much for being a Gov for the people. Very shoddy.

By Fed up GM resident

Correct decision to disregard the ONS. Time to crack on and get building the houses GM needs.#Housing for the power

By Housing for the power

Glad to see so many positive comments. Everyone is living where there was once open fields regardless of the status. It’s right to aim high and find too many may have been built somewhere along the line and at that point drop the targets. Let’s get building and stop pandering to the nimbys

By Gravytrain

I see the developers and builders have been busy commenting here. They won’t be happy until there is no green space left. Their vision is for the uk to become one large housing estate whilst they stuff their pockets. Housing need is directly linked to the economy and with Brexit looming does anyone predict strong economic growth? Where do we grow our food when all we have is housing? The air we breathe is barely fit to breathe now, with all the houses come cars and roads and pollution: this is crazy.

By Ged Smith

12 % of the UK is ‘Built on’ Ged, and even that includes parkland, gardens etc. Over half the land in our towns and cities is “greenspace” – parks, allotments, sports pitches etc. Let’s not panic just yet.

By Same Old Housebuilder Bashing

12% is too high, much higher than in any other country like ours, Germany, France, Spain etc.

By Fordy

@Ged, less than 10% of the country is urban space and that includes gardens and parks. Your hyperbole about there being no green space less is neither accurate or constructive.

The focus here needs to be on creating quality development with adequate community facilities, open space and parkland. Until the government allows LPA’s to refuse applications based on design principles this will never happen.

By Anonymous

Dear By excuses. So you mean Greater Manchester and the North West is an autonomous region with local democratic autonomy, and not almost everything including the spending of our tax money is decided by mostly southern Tory Ministers and Home Counties civil servants. I must have missed the confederation of England. When did it happen?

By James Yates

Why do the lower orders insist that they too should have liveable homes in liveable neighborhoods? Pure evy, I reckon?

By James Brocklehurst

You couldn’t make it up – all very “Yes Minster” like. Government invents a methodology for housing numbers, realises that this will be compromised by more up to date official ONS information in 2016, so its rigorous well-informed solution is simply to tell everyone to ignore the figures. It’s mythical 300,000 target is totally unrealistic as everyone knows. To ignore more recent evidence because you don’t like it is both dangerous and arrogant. No doubt MHCLG will have to respond to the consultation in due course and significant organisations such as CPRE and others could well challenge hard.

By cynical planner

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