A lot has been written in recent years (some of it by me!) about the flawed reasoning used to justify the Local Development Plans forced on our local authorities by the English Planning Inspectorate; this body allowed to act in the name of the Welsh Government and aided by non-Welsh senior officers in our de-democratised councils.
One regular complaint is that previous, undesirable, levels of English immigration are used to justify more of the same. Or that there has been too much input allowed from those with a vested interest in building more new houses. But whatever the exact complaint, it has tended to centre on interpretation, or presentation, rather than on the raw data used. But there may be problems here as well.
Unable to yet make the emotional break with the City of my Dreams, this afternoon I looked through the ward profiles data used to inform Swansea’s LDP. And I found something that brought back memories . . . memories strong enough to make me realise that someone had dropped a rather large testis.
Those of you older than some of the councillors I have been dealing with lately, and who were – also unlike them – living in Wales at the time, will remember that the 2001 census neglected to provide a Welsh tick box. This led to a campaign, organised by the Independent Wales Party, and supported by many others, to boycott the census. The centrepiece of the protest was a ‘coffin’ that travelled the length of Wales collecting census forms that people had refused to complete. After arriving in Cardiff Bay the coffin containing the forms went missing. (And I honestly don’t know where it went.) As I travelled with the coffin for most of the route I can testify to the anger we encountered.
So I was surprised to read in the ward profiles figures given for “People identifying themselves as Welsh” – with the source for this information being the 2001 census! Which, as you can imagine, gave rather odd ‘statistics’. According to Swansea council, using Office of National Statistics data, in 2001 just 15.29% of Swansea’s population identified as Welsh. The 2011 census, which did allow people to describe themselves as Welsh, found that 70.4% chose one or other form of Welshness. Surely someone at the council should have realised that the 2001 figure is rubbish. So why use it without a health warning?
In fairness, the council does admit, “The Profiles (published in July 2012) are a snapshot based on currently available information. They are published in draft form only, as they will need to be updated when the 2011 Census findings are published and as further information becomes publicly available”. Fair enough, but the 2011 census figures have now been out for a few months, so why haven’t these ward profiles been updated? And wasn’t the Swansea LDP based on these wrong figures?
Which brings me to my real worry. If I can find such obviously incorrect ‘data’ from just a quick glance, how many of the other ‘facts’ used to justify LDPs across Wales can be trusted? Is there any independent assessment or evaluation? What about those LDPs, such as Denbighshire’s, planning thousands of new houses not needed by the local population, were they also compiled on faulty data? Did someone look at the 2001 census and say, ‘Only 12% here are Welsh. Let’s build – everywhere!’