Fringe Box



Letter: The Housing Figures Were Wrong, They Probably Still Are

Published on: 1 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 2 Oct, 2018

From Julian Lyon

chairman of the Guildford Society

How very interesting Mr Lainton’s comments are. The notion that the population balance was wrong is not a nimby reaction. It is born out of a careful statistical analysis of the data itself and a clear assessment of failings in the census data for students.

Any interim population assessment that relies heavily on the registration and deregistration of people at GP surgeries, but that fails to recognise that there is no automatic deregistration of student patients (especially overseas students) when they leave, is heading for the rocks.

One can take a look at the numbers of GP patients registered in 2011 for the various output areas around the university, and compare this to the official census population for the same output areas at the same time (in some cases as many as three times overstated). This shows a substantial overhang of so-called residents according to GP registration.

This is a symptom of the need for (downward) adjustments to official figures, but it is not the only factor. The Guildford Society has also looked in detail at the census form itself and the consequent treatment of students. There are functional errors in the form and approach to HMOs (houses in multiple occupancy) which may also distort the population figures.

Finally, there is the time-adjusted comparison of Guildford versus its non-university-borough neighbours. This shows that if the university effect is removed, there is a significant difference in numbers.

This is not to say that Mr Lainton is all wrong. We do need to allow for growth. We do need to recognise that not all lower cost housing should be in the 1960s estates in North Guildford (where it is still somewhat unaffordable for those who live there or wish to set up home there), and not all new housing should have price tags starting at £600,000-plus for a two bedroom flat.

We do need some political and democratic process to decide robustly and sustainably what we want for Guildford’s future and not to simply breathe a sigh of relief that the household projections have come down.

The principal planning issue needs to be how and why we have so ignored our brownfield areas in the plan-making process since 2009 that any new housing, by default, should be put in the countryside where there is a much more remote chance it will be suitable for the type of housing Mr Lainton acknowledges we should be providing.

In summary, the figures were wrong. They probably still are. We cannot forever reject the notion that we should not be accommodating growth. We need to allow for our knowledge economy to prosper. We also need much more housing in and around the town centre to ensure that we preserve and protect our retail and leisure activities in the town centre. We need to deal with our much and long-neglected infrastructure and to manage our flood risks holistically. We need more than a piecemeal, site-by-site Local Plan, and we need to do all of this democratically.

In the meantime, I remain convinced that the picture Mr Lainton paints of the good folk of Guildford, of the Guildford Society and others, is miles away from the mark. Groups like the Guildford Society and Guildford Vision Group are pro-growth because we know how vital it is to our town and our economy.

We are as one though, in thinking that a dodgy plan based on dodgy data has an infinitesimal chance of delivering what Guildford really needs. It does Mr Lainton’s profession little good to pretend that a decrease really means an increase and to not show any empirical evidence or argument to support his assertions – in much the same way that, whether GL Hearn was right or wrong, their unwillingness to explain their model led to it being rejected as dodgy analysis by almost all participants in the Local Plan process in Guildford.

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