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Opinion: The Government Does Not Care Whether Our Housing Targets Are Based On Accurate Data

Published on: 6 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 8 Feb, 2022

By George Potter

Lib Dem county and borough councillor

So the expert planning barrister briefed by the Wisley Action Group campaigners has opined that accepted doubt about ONS population estimates is a reason to review the Local Plan for Guildford.

See: Expert Barrister Gives Three Reasons to Review Guildford’s Local Plan

But it doesn’t matter whether the population estimates in the Local Plan are accurate. It doesn’t matter if they’re an overestimate or an underestimate; whether they’re spot on or whether they’re out to the tune of tens of thousands of people.

Cllr George Potter

It doesn’t matter whether we like them or loathe them. It doesn’t matter if councillors are ardent Nimbyists or pro-development fanatics. It doesn’t matter what any party puts in its local election manifesto. It doesn’t matter whether your argument against the estimates is backed by reams of evidence and reason, or whether it’s backed purely by gut instinct.

It just doesn’t matter.

And the reason it doesn’t matter is because those are the population estimates mandated by central government.

Legally speaking, if the government formula says that the population of Guildford is going to grow by 250,000 people then that’s what the Local Plan has basically got to accommodate. No ifs, no buts.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s patently absurd or nonsensical, because accuracy and sensibleness don’t matter to central government when it comes to planning. All they care about is that the population estimate formula produces figures which support the nationally set targets for housebuilding.

If the evidence doesn’t support that target then too bad; the government will insist on a formula that does support the target and local councils have no choice but to comply with it. That’s why government rules still say to use the projections calculated in 2014 rather than those from 2018 or 2021.

So, until and unless the government changes the housing formula, it doesn’t matter whether the population estimates are 100 per cent accurate or completely wrong. All that matters, when it comes down to the black and white of planning law, is whether the Local Plan complies with the government-imposed targets.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Anyone who still thinks fixing the Local Plan is as simple as telling the government that they’ve obviously got the population estimates wrong just hasn’t been listening.

The government doesn’t care that the estimates are wrong, and GBC does not have the power to make them care. Only MPs have that power and they’ve shown no inclination to use it thus far.

No doubt I will now be shouted down by those who think that pointing out the absurd rules we have to operate under is the same thing as supporting them, but facts are facts.

All this time and effort sunk into poking holes in the logic of the Local Plan, in attempts to convince GBC to rewrite it, is pointless unless the government first removes the straightjacket which forced Guildford to use that logic in the first place.

And, as a final reminder, if a Local Plan review re-opens the topic of housing numbers then do not be surprised if central government takes the opportunity to lumber us with even higher targets than we already have.

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test 4 Responses to Opinion: The Government Does Not Care Whether Our Housing Targets Are Based On Accurate Data

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    February 6, 2022 at 3:15 pm

    What a pitiful outpouring of nihilism.

    If the housing numbers and population statistics had mattered to Cllr Potter’s Lib Dem colleagues, who were councillors at the time, they would have asked GBC to scrutinise the ‘Strategic Housing Market Assessment’ (where the numbers were calculated) in the Local Plan process.

    The Guildford Greenbelt Group asked for this to be examined.

    But the Conservative majority, assisted by the Lib Dems all waived it through and voted against any scrutiny at all. They just washed their hands of it.

    At that time the objective facts did not matter to council leaders Mansbridge or Spooner.

    Cllr Potter is now just re-running the same force majeure argument made by the discredited former leader of Guildford Borough Council, Mr Mansbridge, who boasted of setting the “vision” and “trajectory” for the Local Plan.

    It’s not good enough to blame central government. The local council did not do what it was paid to do.

    And it is still not doing what it was elected to do: review the disastrous Mansbridge/Spooner Local Plan.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    February 7, 2022 at 6:46 am

    One has to wonder where Cllr Potter has been for the past three years.

    In this time HM Government has developed new policies for the environment and “levelling up”. The Local Plan, it stands, makes no allowance for these.

    Levelling up cannot be achieved, unless the plans for the South East allowing such large scale development are reviewed, and targets revised downwards.

  3. George Potter Reply

    February 8, 2022 at 10:10 am

    I would remind Mr Paton that the delay in adopting a Local Plan was precisely what got Guildford lumbered with the Solum development and Effingham lumbered with the Berkeley Homes development.

    Not having a Local Plan in place enabled developers to secure planning permission by appeal due to the council’s inability to meet the checkbox of “proving” it had a “five-year housing supply”.

    At the time of adoption my Lib Dem colleagues were clear that they were unsatisfied with the Tory approach, especially the decision to include an additional 40% buffer of over-provision of housing when only a 20% buffer was legally required, but “scrutinising” the Strategic Housing Market Assessment would have changed nothing and only caused yet more delay, enabling developers to continue to get planning permission by appeal.

    Where I agree with Mr Paton, and with most who argue against the Local Plan, is that the housing formula is broken and produced numbers which were far too high. What I disagree with is the myopic view which insists that wishful thinking will somehow magically allow us to achieve a different outcome if the Local Plan is re-opened.

    When you are playing a rigged game of cards and lose the shirt off your back, then it is not especially advisable to loudly complain about how rigged the game is and then go back and risk losing your trousers too.

    Nonetheless, Mr Paton seems to not only insist on wagering his trousers he has also decided that the real scoundrels, the ones really to blame, are those warning others that the game is rigged and that they are going to lose. Surely he should be blaming the ones who rigged the game in the first place.

    George Potter is a Lib Den County and borough councillor

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    February 9, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Well it does matter to the people who live in this borough.

    And if it does not matter to Mr Potter then he should go and make way for someone who does care.

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