Which set of housing numbers to use?

Another extract from ‘Going west? Housing, migration and population growth in Cornwall’

As we can see, DCLG data tell us that 24,500 dwellings were added to Cornwall’s housing stock in the nine years from 2004 to 2012. Yet the Strategic Housing Market Needs Assessment (SHMNA), using data supplied from the Council’s planners, informs us that the number of houses completed in these same years was 22,251. This discrepancy is explained by the number of extra dwellings produced by conversions, change of use and other factors. In 2012-13, according to the DCLG, 1,930 houses were added to Cornwall’s stock as a result of ‘new builds’, but another net 350 came from conversions and change of use.

This is a significant proportion but is nowhere mentioned in the Council’s Local Plan documentation. There, the assumption is that all the calculated housing ‘need’ has to be met by new builds. But this is plainly not the case. If we extrapolate the difference between completions and additions to stock to a 20 year period to match the Local Plan period we might expect around 5,600 additional houses to be provided by conversions or change of use. This means that, if we accept for the moment the Council’s assertion that we ‘need’ 47,500 houses, only 41,900 new houses actually have to be built. The rest will come from change of use etc. Alternatively, the Council is really planning to meet a ‘need’ for 53,100 houses rather than 47,500 but just not letting on. Incidentally, this neatly explains the otherwise puzzling discrepancy between Cornwall Council’s Annual Monitoring Reports, written by its planning department, which tell us 42,106 houses were completed in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010 and the Census, where the increase in the stock of household spaces in the 20 years from 1991 to 2011 was 47,492, a considerably higher figure.

If all that wasn’t confusing enough, we find that number of new builds in 2012-13 according to the DCLG was 1,930 yet the number of ‘completions’ according to the Council was 2,375. Something or someone isn’t adding up. If our collective brains haven’t yet turned to soup, there’s more. The DCLG’s statistics for the number of ‘permanent dwellings completed’ give far lower totals than do the completions data supplied by Cornwall Council’s planning department. Over the past five years the DCLG data ran at between 69% and 77% of the level reported by Cornwall Council. As the source of the DCLG statistics is supposed to be local planning authorities, it is difficult to explain this large anomaly. Moreover, this discrepancy between local authorities’ own statistics of housing completions and DCLG totals is not confined to Cornwall. This mystery suggests that official datasets are sometimes prone to inexplicable variation and are not quite the precise measurements they pretend to be. If we can’t even be sure about how many houses are actually being built, claims about the numbers of houses that should be built based on DCLG statistics in particular need to be approached with a due degree of scepticism.

You can download Going west Housing, migration and population in Cornwall here:



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