Time running out for comment

The Consultation Period ends on 22nd September and the Guildford Vision Group and Guildford Society talks on Town Centre Vision (3rd September at the Millmead Centre) and Local Plan Submission (15th September at the Trinity Centre) are coming up fast.

The Clock is Ticking – or is it a Time Bomb?

Julian D S Lyon MBA FRICS
 
The Consultation Periods for the Town Centre Vision and the Draft Local Plan both end on 22nd September.
 
Guildford Vision Group and Guildford Society talks on Town Centre Vision (3rd September at the Millmead Centre) and Local Plan Submission (15th September at the Trinity Centre) are coming up fast.
 
The Town Centre Vision is a vital component of the Local Plan – a once in fifty to a hundred year opportunity to reclaim the riverside from traffic and create a fabulous environment in which to live, work, study and play.  The Surrey Advertiser (Friday 29th September) gave a glimpse of the GVG concept plan to reroute the traffic to the west of the town centre and to create pedestrian priority around the river and between the town centre and the station, university and cathedral.
 
A viable and vibrant town centre needs plenty of people living in the town, and yet much of the town centre (believe it or not) scores in the most deprived 3% of local super output areas (‘LSOA‘s) in the country for outdoor living environment! Simply piling more housing into town without comprehensively resolving that issue would simply be wrong.
 
The Local Plan – if you had just arrived here and read the column inches in the media – would seem to be all about the complete devastation of the green belt and the imposition of an astronomic number of homes per year.
 
However much it may feel like that is the case, the reality is different.
 
The amount of green belt (in net terms) proposed for development is quite small and the housing numbers at 652 are high but our run rate to 2011 since 1931 averages 495 homes per year.  Recent press reports emphasise the pressures on our population numbers and the Government is trying to deal with a current housing shortage.
 
The approach has been wrong.  Perhaps some of the sites proposed are wrong.  The mathematics seem to be inexplicably wrong. The evidence base is a poor starting point for some fundamental changes to our spatial planning.  These are all good reasons to respond robustly to the Local Plan Consultation.
 
On the other hand, there are some major spatial planning issues that really need addressing:
 
We have (in this generally wealthy borough) thirteen LSOAs in the poorest 50% in the country and one in the poorest 25% nationally under the Multiple Deprivation Index.  This in itself seems like a small local area to work on but drilling down into details tells a different story. 
 
  • We have several areas in the most deprived 5% in the country for access to housing and services.
  • We have one particular area where, even in this generally well-educated borough, we are in the poorest 2.5% in the county for young person’s education and skills.
  • We have some wild extremes of performance across the borough in many of the other deprivation domains
 
Alongside this challenging set of statistics, we know our infrastructure has lacked meaningful investment for decades.
 
Guildford, as a second tier authority, cannot solve many of these issues alone – there needs to be a shadow unitary authority to actually get things done – but it can lay the groundwork by allocating land for solutions and delivering real vision and leadership through the Local Plan.  
 
There are many other issues that the Local Plan should seek to resolve.  Many of these issues will require major investment and, absent contributions from Government, we will need developments to help finance some of these solutions.
 
My experience tells me that small-scale developments will not fund such deficits and so, from the data I have examined rather than from reading the evidence base, I am persuaded that we need to think bigger than nibbling at the edges or pulling up the drawbridge.
 
Looking at the town centre again, we do need more people living in the town centre but we need them and the current residents to have better access to a great outdoor environment – designed for living in, not requiring a constant fight with traffic to get from A to B, without having to breathe in pollutants from traffic sitting in queues belching exhaust fumes into the air.  Town centre homes can reduce the pressure on the green belt but preserving one environment (green belt) whilst destroying another (Guildford Urban Area) would not be sustainable.
 

I do not think the Local Plan has got it right and the Guildford Society will be responding robustly.

 
Despite the personalisation of the public responses – born out of understandable frustration but, in my view, quite misdirected – I do believe that Cllr Mansbridge is the kind of leader who can make a difference.  We have two specific tasks in the next three weeks and thereafter:
 
  • submit our objective responses to the Draft Plan, the Town Centre Vision (Oh, yes, and the Habitats consultation and the upcoming Surrey County Council Transport consultation); and
  • follow up to ensure our respective comments are noted and reflected in the next iteration.
I hope we will finish up with a Local Plan that gets to grips with the issues, seizes the right opportunities and leaves the majority of the borough intact.  To paraphrase Cllr Mansbridge’s recent statement:
 
IN ORDER FOR MUCH OF THE BOROUGH TO STAY PRETTY MUCH THE SAME, SOME THINGS WILL HAVE TO CHANGE, and the Local Plan is about making those changes in the least impactful way.

ONS publishes new Population Projections

On 29th May 2014, the Office for National Statistics published revised population projections for the period 2012 to 2037:

initial reading shows that, whereas under the data on which the SHMA was published, the population would have risen from 137,580 (2011) to 156,299 (2021), the new data shows this to be rising to 151,439 (2021).  This suggests a reduction from 1.28% to 0.964% per year.  The impact on housing numbers is complex because it depends upon household formation rates within the local demographic profile, but, crudely, this might suggest the SHMA figure of 780 should be reduced to around 590 homes (780*0.964/1.28).

The longer term projections take population forecasting out to 2037 and suggest the Borough population would have risen to 165,792 (a 20.5% increase from 2011 levels over 26 years – an average projected annual increase of 0.72%).

Guildford’s current households number in the region of 54,000 and at 0.72% (assuming household formation rates are consistent across the existing supply and the future need – which is unlikely to be the case due to our need for an increase in smaller housing units to fit our demographic profile – this would suggest a long term number of 388 homes per year.

I STRESS THIS IS VERY BASIC ANALYSIS AND DOES NOT PRETEND TO TAKE THE PLACE OF A PROPER PROFESSIONAL MODELLING EXERCISE.

The Guildford Society has advocated a target number of 345 homes (due in part to population trends and partly to existing supply constraints governed mainly by Special Protection Areas and Green Belt designations and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Further detailed analysis will be prepared over the coming weeks to seek to inform the discussion and debate from a perspective of good data.  The Guildford Society would also wish to establish whether the anomalies identified in earlier studies (on this site and in the Guildford Society representations) and acknowledged by the Director General of the Office for National Statistics in his letter to Anne Milton have been fully resolved.  Early indications are that adjustment has been made to the assumption of students remaining in Guildford after qualification at the University of Surrey.

20140529_PopStatsUpdated-2021Comparison

On the face of it, some allowance has been made. From these data comparisons, it is possible to see some of the population assumptions at work:

A reduction in population from ages 19 to 30 or so also leads to a reduction in ‘fertility’ numbers and a consequent reduction in the number of births and under-tens.

The reduction in 19-30s is important (not just numerically overall) because this is the age group that feeds most into affordable housing numbers, and household formation numbers.

Equally, the demands on infrastructure will change due to the pattern – fewer than previously projected school places would be required, for example.

This is a really quick overview of the new data and should not be treated as in any way an empirical assessment.

The data are available here.

JDSL 29th May 2014

GSoc comments acknowledged by ONS

In a letter to Anne Milton dated 23rd May 2014 – our MP having taken up the Guildford Society concerns – the Director General of the Office for National Statistics, Glen Watson, has given some hope that the population projections might indeed prove to be overstated when new data is published on Thursday 29th May.

Mr Watson noted:

“ONS experts have reviewed the Guildford Society document which you enclosed and they have confirmed that the document is broadly correct in describing how population statistics and projections are produced.”

He comments that:

“The 2011 Census identified a very different population pattern for Guildford compared with the rolled forward mid-year estimates based on the 2001 Census. Broadly, the total population was around three per cent lower than previously estimated. This effect was particularly evident in the 20-29 age group and will have been largely due to issues with the assumptions on the movement of students into and out of Guildford.”

He concludes that:

“The 2011 Census identified a very different population pattern for Guildford compared with the rolled forward mid-year estimates based on the 2001 Census. Broadly, the total population was around three per cent lower than previously estimated. This effect was particularly evident in the 20-29 age group and will have been largely due to issues with the assumptions on the movement of students into and out of Guildford.”

It will be worth checking in due course to see if the SHMA is adjusted yet again to reflect both these findings and the new data to be published later this week.

In the meantime, thanks to Anne Milton MP for taking this up with ONS for The Guildford Society.

JULIAN LYON 27th May 2014