Graham Henry

Feb 052014

There was a piece in today’s WalesOnline by Graham Henry telling us that Wales needs a few hundred thousand more dwellings than are currently planned. I don’t know who fed him the story, but I suspect the Wales-based statisticians of the Knowledge and Analytical Services, who answer to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in London. I say that because anyone doing serious journalism on housing projections and Local Development Plans would be bound to mention the Planning Inspectorate. Not mentioning this executive agency of the DCLG is rather like discussing the current upheavals in Welsh rugby and ignoring the role of the Welsh Rugby Union.

What is perhaps worse is that this omission allowed the article to be read as if Welsh local authorities are solely responsible for deciding how many new homes will be built. They are not. That power rests with the Planning Inspectorate, which does not hesitate to regularly insist that councils increase the number of new homes to be planned for. Councils accept these diktats because they simply cannot afford to challenge them, with the Planning Inspectorate backed financially by the UK government.Household projections Carmarthenshire

As the WalesOnline article focused on Carmarthenshire let’s look at the county’s Local Development Plan (of October 2013). Go to section 5.4.7 and we learn that the council anticipates an increase in population from 175,063 in 2008 to 192,740 in 2021, and a projected increase in households in the same period (5.4.8) of 15,197. (The 2011 census gave Carmarthenshire’s population at 181,227.) That the number of new households is not much smaller than the projected population increase is due partly to new families forming, partly to in-migration but mainly to projected smaller household size. In fact, before I started investigating housing and planning in Wales I hadn’t appreciated the importance of the household size figure. Yet it’s difficult to make sense of LDPs and other demands for housing without understanding the relationship between population growth and household size. Put simply, a household means a dwelling. If the projected population increase for an area was 20,000, and average household size was four persons, then a council would need to plan for the building of roughly half the homes needed if the household size was only two persons. Smaller households = more dwellings.

The table above right (click to enlarge) is taken from a June 2011 document, Population and Housing – Revised Topic Paper 2, used to inform the Carmarthenshire LDP. It tells us that the statisticians predict massive increases in the following types of households: single people, couples, and single parents with children. The figures come from, Household Projections for Wales (2006-based), which sees household size in the county drop from 2.25 in 2006 to 2.04 in 2021. Though seeing as this Topic Paper was produced in 2011 it’s strange that it used the 2006 figures rather than those for 2008, which predict a slightly higher average in 2021. It should be pointed out here that the Office for National Statistics has “sourced out” household projections to the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. This being the department to which the Knowledge and Analytical Services (KAS) answers.

Living at homeSo how reliable are these household size projections? Not very. The 2011 census tells us there were in Carmarthenshire 78,800 households of one or more persons. If we divide this into the population figure of 181,227 it gives us a household average size of 2.30. Obviously this is not exact, but even so, it is higher than the KAS estimate for 2011 0f 2.17. Other information suggests that, far from falling, household size may actually be rising. For example, this recent report tells us that an increasing number of young adults are living at home with a parent or parents, and that this trend was observable before the economic downturn. (See panel, left.) Then, the UK government plans to cut housing benefit for under 25s rather than reduce universal pensioner benefits. Both measures are bound to increase household size. And, as a consequence, reduce the need for new housing.

No one reading this must think that I’m talking only of private, open market, dwellings, for these projections also apply to social housing, which is covered in the Housing (Wales) Bill (see recent posts). This legislation, handed down by the Department for Communities and Local Government in London, will ‘harmonise’ the provision of social housing in Wales and England. In other weopposebedroomtaxwords, anyone qualifying for social housing in England will automatically qualify for social housing in Wales. Which, when added to the UK government’s welfare reforms (such as the ‘bedroom tax’), might explain the Carmarthenshire household projections in the table above . . . if Carmarthenshire is being prepared for an influx of single mothers and others from the Great Wen.

Before concluding I must return to private housing in order to bring to your attention the remarkable transformation that occurs between statisticians’ projections and housebuilders’ planning applications. As we have seen, statisticians argue for ever smaller household size, due to more and more people living alone and an increasing number of childless – usually retired – couples. One team of academics employed by the ‘Welsh’ Government (or someone) told us that, “Of the projected net increase of 269,000 households between 2006 and 2026, 66 per cent are one-person households and 21 per cent one-parent families. ‘Couple’ households contribute 16 per cent of the total increase in households”. (Numerate readers will have noted that these three categories alone add up to 103 per cent!) Which should result in the vast majority of properties built being one- and two-bedroom dwellings – but they’re not. The latest figures available, July – September 2013, tell us that 62.6% of completed dwellings in Wales were three- and four-bedroom houses!

Clearly, a deception is being practised. On the one hand, the UK government and its Wales-based statisticians predict – against increasing evidence – smaller households in order to bump up the number of new properties needed. But then, the Planning Inspectorate, working with housebuilders and others, takes the ‘new dwellings needed’ figures, transforms them into much larger dwellings, and forces Local Development Plans on our councils. We are being made to build social housing to meet an English demand, and also private housing, from Carmarthenshire to Denbighshire, to accommodate a wealthier English influx. All part of a wider strategy of colonisation.

The Local Development Plans for Carmarthenshire and other local authorities were rushed through before the underpinning ‘statistics’ could be invalidated by: a) the consequences of the economic crisis that began in 2008 and b) the 2011 census. Almost as if the Planning Inspectorate and the statisticians knew they had only a short ‘window’ in which to force their plans on our local authorities. Now that we have more reliable statistics the Local Development Plans thus far adopted are invalidated. They must be revised. From now on we must plan for Welsh need and Welsh need only.

Jan 142013

We all like to have a go at the Wasting Mule; we ridicule its falling circulation, its Cardiff-centricity, its anti-Welsh position on most issues, but in addition to these and other conscious faults the problems may also be due to the simple and fundamental fact that it’s a poorly produced newspaper. This thought was brought home to me with a few pieces in today’s issue.

I’ll gloss over the fact that Huw Lewis, the Welsh Management’s ‘Housing Minister’, was given the front page and two inside pages for blatant party political propaganda. Or that columnist Caroline Hitt tried to get serious with a whole page of politics . . . well, not really, more, sort of, about politicians. (Though nothing Welsh, of course). Instead I’ll focus on two items that bear out what a bloody awful paper the Mule has become.

  • First piece of evidence for the prosecution is the story on page 14, where one Graham Henry, billed as the ‘Senedd Correspondent’, wondered whether the decline in water-retaining upland peat bogs might not have contributed to the recent flooding. Amazingly, this half-page piece managed to deal with the decline in upland peat bogs – even mentioning the villages north of Aberystwyth so badly affected by flooding last year – without touching on wind turbines, each of which needs a concrete base the size of a football pitch, plus access roads to each turbine, often at the expense of peat bog. Which makes pretending to deal with upland peat bog loss and the resultant flooding, yet without mentioning wind turbines, a bit like discussing the Titanic without mentioning the iceberg!
  • Turning to the sports pages, our old friend Paul Abbandonato came up trumps again. This time in a curious, rambling piece about Real Madrid fans making Swans’ boss Michael Laudrup their third favourite to replace manager Jose Mourinho, when ‘The Special One’ leaves the Bernabeu in the summer. After commending the Dane on the job he’s doing at the Liberty Stadium Abbo went in with studs showing and, “Every week you sense the Swans are going to blow up . . .”. Er, no, I don’t. Nor do thousands of other Swans fans; a host being boosted weekly by neutrals who think the Swans are a fairly good side. As a Cardiff fan, possibly jealous of the Swans’ success, you may be hoping the Swans ‘blow up’, but that’s entirely different. Can’t the Mule find a Swans’ fan, or a neutral, to write about the club, rather than this man who obviously finds it difficult to be positive or fair about the biggest rival to the club he supports? (Unfortunately the “blow up” part of the article does not appear in the online version.)

After all that, the obvious question – and I hear it rise from a thousand devices! – ‘Why buy the bloody rag, then?’ Good question. I regularly ask it of myself. But as I have explained before, if I want my daily fix of Welsh football and rugby, with a dose of Welsh news – however prejudiced and badly written – then there is no alternative. I suspect that most Mule readers are like me: patriotically Welsh, interested in sport, therefore a captive audience. Which might make the Mule unique, in being a ‘paper that knowingly takes a different political line to the one shared by most of its readers.

Which in turn should be a recipe for a publication’s demise. But the Wasting Mule gets away with antagonising its diminishing readership because of the generous payments received from serving as the Welsh Mangement’s in-house publication, not just for ‘news’ but also for public notices and advertisements. Though with the Mule’s falling circulation and ageing readership, how much longer can Carwyn’s gang justify this generosity?