‘Jac writing about Cardiff!’ I hear you exclaim, before dropping your coffee in your lap. Yes, and I’m not even going to gloat over certain sporting matters. I’m writing this post because the Cardiff LDP could have implications well beyond the city itself. Before getting down to it let me acknowledge that the post was inspired by Councillor Neil McEvoy’s article on Daily Wales. I only know Neil through social networking but he seems the type of energetic and awkward (in the best sense of the word) politician Wales needs. The kind of man who enjoys making life difficult for those who think their decisions should be accepted without question.
First, a brief explanation. Every local authority has to produce a Local Development Plan telling us how it proposes meeting the future needs of its area in terms of population growth and housebuilding. This is done with the ‘guidance’ of the Planning Inspectorate, an executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. Statistics and projections are supplied by StatsWales via the Knowledge and Analytical Services of the same London department. Both the PI and KAS have civil servants based in Cardiff, which allows the ‘Welsh’ Government to claim that it alone is responsible for planning matters in Wales. In this, as in so much else, I fear, the ‘Welsh’ Government deludes itself and misleads the rest of us.
Local Development Plans across Wales cover the period 2006 – 2026 and are at different stages of acceptance and adoption, so the Cardiff Plan is already way behind schedule. Something else worth saying about LDPs is that they were first compiled before the figures from the 2011 Census became available (from July 2012). Which is odd, seeing as the Census results contradicted many of the assumptions and projections on which the LDPs were predicated.
One of the great mysteries of LDPs in Wales is why they were pushed through even though it was known that the presumptions and calculations on which they were based could be undone by the findings of the 2011 Census. It’s not as if the 2011 Census sneaked up on us, everybody knew it was coming, so why not wait for the hard facts it provided. It’s almost as if certain interests wanted to rush the LDPs through before the figures used could be proved wrong by the Census.
The Deposit LDP for Cardiff can be found here and if you scroll down the page you’ll find a link to the Background Technical Paper on Population, Households and Dwellings. On page 17 of the latter document you’ll find the table below. According to this table the population will increase by 71,612 between 2006 and 2026; resulting in 42,363 new households requiring 41,132 new dwellings. These figures are interesting, but even more interesting is the source for the 2026 figures, the ones used to determine how many new dwellings Cardiff will ‘need’. The Population figures for 2006 and 2011 come from the Office for National Statistics’ Mid Year Estimates (MYE). The Household figure for 2006 comes from StatsWales because household projections are contracted out by the ONS to Knowledge and Analytical Services (i.e. StatsWales). But the all-important 2026 figures are attributed to the “Edge Report”, so what is this? Well, it refers to Edge Analytics, “the specialists in demographic modelling”.
Which then raises the question: ‘Why would Cardiff council recruit expensive consultants? The council already employs thousands of people, it has access through electoral rolls, council tax ledgers, planning and other data to a wealth of information about the city and its people; and all this can be supplemented by the population projections and other figures provided free by the ONS and StatsWales. So why employ outside specialists?
I’ll leave that question for a while to focus on the most recent national projection released by StatsWales / KAS, which says that the population of Wales in 2026 will be 3,238,000, an increase of 164,000 on 2012. At the 2011 Census Cardiff’s population of 346,090 accounted for 11.3% of Wales’ total. So 11.3% of 164,000 would mean Cardiff’s population increasing by 18,532 to 2026. This, I concede, is unrealistic, so let us assume an increase in Cardiff of double the Welsh average, giving a figure of 37,064 and a population in 2026 of 383,154. This, I think, is reasonable, because if we see anything more, such as the 30% of Wales’ total population increase predicted by Edge Analytics (or Cardiff city council), then the rest of the country needs to start asking serious questions of the ‘Welsh’ Government about investment levels and employment opportunities in other areas of Wales.
Which may give us one reason Cardiff city council decided not to use official figures – they didn’t allow for a big enough increase in the city’s population. (Though, in fairness to them, it seems that Edge did suggest reducing certain of the counci’s predictions – see panel – but the council rejected these recommendations!) Although we have the national projection to 2026, StatsWales / KAS needs to pull its finger out and produce the breakdown by local authority, no matter how unwelcome that will be to certain people connected with Cardiff city council.
Having dealt with population projections the other big issue is the number of new homes the council extrapolates from that figure. To be exact, 41,132 to cope with a projected 71,612 more people. Many factors go into determining how many new dwellings will be needed but the two principal considerations are household size, that is, the average number living in any dwelling; and new households forming, that is, people leaving the parental home to live alone or with a partner, marital break-up, etc.
The current average household size for Wales is 2.31 though higher for Cardiff due to its much younger age profile; and there has been a reducing rate of new household formation for a number of years, even before the recent economic crisis. (See the panel above.) One factor is that more people in their twenties and thirties are living with their parents, as this article explains. Another factor will be the changes in benefits payable to, for example, young single mothers. Finally, we need to consider the 3% of the population living in communal establishments, not households. Add it all up and it makes the claimed 42,363 new households from a population increase of just 71,612 difficult to accept, perhaps suggesting that it contains an element of wishful thinking or speculative housing. I would have thought that Cardiff had seen enough of the latter in recent years. Worse, to stick with the housing figure knowing that the population increase itself is exaggerated could mean that the whole exercise is driven by speculative housing interests.
Other factors also need to be considered in explaining why both the population and household projections are unrealistic. First, the city’s student population of some 37,000 accounts for many houses of multiple occupation (HMO), the large number of buy-to-let mortgages, and also helps push up Cardiff’s household size. But there is surely a limit to how many students Cardiff can attract without standards falling and / or too many students alienating the resident population. Second, the population increase figure between 2001 and 2011 was heavily influenced by immigration from the ‘new’ EU states, mainly Poland. The Poles are going home, and they will not be replaced because there is no large country poised to join the EU.
I conclude that the true purpose of the Cardiff LDP is to increase the size, and importance, of the city at all costs, with one eye on speculative building. This to be done with no heed paid to damage inflicted on the city’s own green spaces nor the economic health of the wider region and Wales. To achieve this grandiose aim the LDP then has to pick and choose which statistics suit the purpose and, indeed, which recommendations of is own consultants can be used. This is one reason Edge Analytics was retained – to serve as a whipping-boy or scapegoat if the opposition got organised – ‘Our consultants advised us . . . ‘. But as we’ve seen, the council was very selective in what it accepted from its consultants.
This all results in hundreds of pages designed to confuse the curious and discourage those minded to oppose the LDP. Partly achieved by passages of near-gibberish, such as the one reproduced in the panel above. There were not “346,100 households in Cardiff” in July 2012, that was the city’s population (though I don’t recognise the figure). While the 2008-based household size projection for Cardiff is actually 2.36, so I have no idea where the 2.35 and 2.33 figures quoted come from. Edge Analytics? Though it may be worth remembering that the smaller the household size then the more new dwellings that will be ‘needed’.
In many respects the Cardiff Local Development Plan is no worse than other LDPs I have looked at, such as those for Carmarthenshire, and Denbighshire. The main difference being that with Cardiff it’s difficult to detect the behind-the-scenes insistence of the Planning Inspectorate on building more houses than an area needs, presumably because Cardiff city council, unlike many other authorities, needed no encouragement. Consequently the Cardiff Local Development Plan is a compendium of carefully selected statistics plus ‘statistics’ that seem to have been plucked from thin air. As a work of the imagination it might be worth entering it for some literary award. But it should never be implemented; for to do so would be damaging both for Cardiff and for Wales.
STOP PRESS: Last night there was a referendum in the Fairwater-Pentrebane area of Cardiff on the LDP. The question posed was: ‘Do You Think That The Deposit Local Development Plan Should Be Adopted For Cardiff?’ The result: Yes 31 votes (2%), No 1,311 votes (98%) Turnout 13.55%. Read about it here in Daily Wales.