Friday, 12 June 2015

The latest on the Cornwall Local Plan

Following the initial stages of the Public Examination into the Cornwall Local Plan, which recently took place in Newquay, the Government Inspector Simon Emerson has released his initial findings.

I have written, many times before, about my frustration at (i) how the production of Cornwall’s “planning blueprint” for the period from 2010 to 2030 has been “guided” by onerous constraints imposed by central government, and (ii) how a single Government Inspector has to check that the document is “sound” or – in others words – compliant with the policies of central government.

It has therefore come as no surprise to me that Mr Everson has ruled that he “would not be in a position to recommend adoption of the plan without the Council undertaking further work and consulting on various possible changes to the plan.”

Cornwall Council has reported that the Inspector is instructing the unitary authority to:

- re-run the housing model and update the housing target (currently 47,500) using the Government’s housing projections published this year.

- increase the Plan’s housing target to reflect the pressure from existing second and holiday homes and consider if further increase is needed to meet affordable housing needs.

- be clearer about how the Plan’s policies support the economic strategies and employment land, particularly how much and where.

- adjust affordable housing targets to a more achievable level.

- engage better with Gypsy and Traveller communities to get better evidence of their needs.

The main coverage I have seen on this news – mostly on the internet – has focussed on the Inspector’s instruction to increase the (47,500) housing target and there has been much speculation about what this means.

The Inspector’s letter can be viewed on-line at

Here are a few extracts:

Mr Everson did not accept criticism of ONS figures used for property predictions:

3.4 A number of representations indicate that past projections for Cornwall by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) over-estimated future growth compared with what actually happened and that therefore they are not a reliable basis for planning. Since the Census of 2011, ONS has undertaken considerable updating and correcting of the data that is used for population/household projections to ensure that projections are as robust as possible. I have not seen evidence to demonstrate that past projections were so out of step with what occurred in Cornwall compared with elsewhere or that such large variations would occur in the future to justify a departure from national policy/guidance on their use as the demographic starting point.

3.5 … the revision by the ONS of the inter-census Mid- Year Estimates on which the components of past changes used for future projections are calculated. These recent projections are thus derived from more robust data than was available for use in the SHMNA. In addition, to provide the most robust projections appropriate to Cornwall, some adjustment to the ONS/DCLG methodology is justified …

He also ruled that the housing target number should be increased, because of the number of homes lost to second homes. He has even come up with a specific figure of 7%.

3.15 … for Cornwall I consider that the 7% I am requiring to recognise second homes/holiday homes is a more specific, evidence-based adjustment to the demographic projection to reflect the realities of an important element of the housing market in Cornwall.

He also ruled that the unitary authority should investigate whether there should also be a further uplift to provide additional affordable housing, though in contradiction he also ruled that affordable housing targets should be reduced.

3.20 National guidance requires consideration of an uplift; it does not automatically require a mechanistic increase in the overall housing requirement to achieve all affordable housing needs based on the proportions required from market sites. The realism of achieving the intended benefit of additional affordable housing from any such uplift is relevant at this stage, otherwise any increase may not achieve its purpose.

3.21 Any uplift on the demographic starting point such as the 7% addition for second/holiday homes that I am requiring would deliver some additional affordable housing and can be taken into account in judging whether any further uplift is justified.

However, in his ruling, he clearly did not agree with the large developer firms who wanted tens of thousands more housing units. Speculation that the new housing figure would be 70,000 – 80,000 is not correct and the Inspector stated that a “significant” increase – his words – would not be deliverable.

Edwina Hannaford, the Cornwall Council cabinet member for planning has focussed on this, stating : “While [Mr Emerson] recommends changes and further work, he has not supported calls for significant increases in the housing targets and has also accepted the Council’s key argument that Cornwall does not need significantly higher housing targets to achieve economic growth.”

I will be writing more about the Local Plan over the next few days.