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.