With the Local Plan consultation ongoing, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions relating to housing growth. These may help you deal with the issues that are raised through the Local Plan process and provide pointers for responding to the consultation which ends on April 22nd.
The housing target
Doesn’t the Local Plan give us a lower target than the Regional Spatial Strategy did?
The RSS was always an excessively high target, more than 50% higher than actual historic building rates, which in Cornwall were already higher than most other places. We should compare the figures in the current plan with past building rates and what we actually need, not with the RSS which remained a figment of the regional quango’s imagination.
But if we had a lower target than 42,250 wouldn’t the Government impose a higher figure on us?
Analysis of Local Plans that have already been accepted as ‘sound’ by Government inspectors show a range of housing targets. Several have pro rata targets of 38,000 or even fewer. In addition, the Council’s position on this has not been consistent. First, the planners assured us that 49,000 was the minimum target acceptable to the Government then it became 45,000. Now it’s transmuted again into 42,250!
But isn’t the target lower than actual rates over the last 20 years?
No. According to the Council’s own figures 41,320 houses were built in the 20 years from 1991-2011.
The benefits of more housing and more people
Won’t population growth result in a more prosperous economy?
If that were true, Cornwall would be one of the more prosperous regions in the UK. The evidence shows the opposite. Since 1961 Cornwall has seen a dramatic rise in population but the economy remains weak.
If it were true, we should expect that levels of multiple deprivation will be lowest in those areas where population growth has been highest. But on the contrary, there proves to be a weak positive correlation at the parish level between population growth since the 1960s and the multiple deprivation index. Which means that places with a higher population growth have a slightly greater the likelihood of being MORE deprived.
If we look at earnings in 1981 Male full-time earnings in Cornwall attained the giddy heights of 84% of the Great Britain average. By 2011 male full-time earnings had dropped back to 78% of the Great Britain average. Over the same period Cornwall’s population had gone up by 26%!
But if we build more houses wouldn’t we get money for things we need like better roads and more school spaces?
You never get something for nothing. As more houses are built they put demands on road space, school capacity and other facilities. That’s what the ‘extra’ money is used for – to meet the extra demand. Let’s assume a developer wants 100 houses, adding 15 children to the school rolls. The cost of providing the extra school places is £60,000, which the developer pays as part of the planning permission. The community is no better off than before!
In Bodmin the claim is that extra housing will provide funds for more road space. Will this mean less congestion? No, because by 2030, with the population up by 41%, traffic levels will be up 41.5% – no better off than before! [Town Framework]
But won’t building more houses mean more council tax?
Of course. But more houses mean more service users. More service users mean more costs, which needs more funding, which needs more council tax! The ‘extra’ council tax would simply go to meet the extra costs. The whole merry cycle means we end up in the same place we started!
In-migration and population change
Households are changing – surely that means we need more houses?
They are, but at the same time household size barely fell between 2001 and 2011. Even if the household size of the resident population falls, this is actually a small component of the total ‘demand’ most of which is accounted for by in-migration.
But hasn’t a natural decline (more deaths than births) now been replaced by natural increase, so that the population will rise even if net in-migration were zero?
For the last half-century the number of deaths in Cornwall has been higher than the number of births, so if there no net in-migration the population would have fallen. It is the case that recently there has been a decline in the natural fall and recent projections from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the number of births may slightly exceed the number of deaths for a while. But this is the temporary result of the migration of younger people and after a few years deaths will then be higher than births again and natural change will again be negative.
How can you stop people moving to Cornwall?
That’s an intriguing comment but rather misses the point. It’s not a matter of suddenly stopping all migration to Cornwall. After all, maybe as many as one in three of in-migrants are returning to Cornwall. However, it seems Governments can alter lots of things if they wish. For example, they can force people with ‘spare’ bedrooms who live in social housing to move. Or they can deter potential migrants from Romania. Some policies seem to be practical and feasible. Others aren’t.
The question should be – why do people move to Cornwall? There are lots of reasons – the lure of tourism; advertising Cornwall as the place to escape to, the jobs market, the way new houses are advertised, for example. If you do all of that then you will find that people move!
All of these could be changed. If we continue with present policies and effectively encourage immigration we estimate we still only require 29,000 new houses. And our steady state scenario envisages that people will continue to move around – some will leave and some will enter. What it does mean is that either fewer will move in or more will move out. We estimate that if the numbers moving in fell by one fifth out-migration and in-migration would balance. It’s actually a small change to make and by influencing the drivers of population movement it could be achieved.
But if the population goes up then don’t we need more housing?
This is based on a simple assumption that people just move to Cornwall which generates demand for housing. But providing housing also generates demand! Lots of houses are built and marketed for that very purpose. When you see developers stating they have goals such as – building in ‘ the most sought after areas in Cornwall.’ and ‘If you’re looking for luxury property in Cornwall, you’ve just found the right place’, it’s pretty obvious they are not catering to meet local housing need. They are creating demand. In other words increasing the supply of housing may actually increase demand and result in an increase, not a decrease, in prices!
Isn’t more housing necessary to meet local needs?
Although the impression is given that we need houses to meet local need, that’s a distortion of what actually happens. Between 2001 and 2011 according to the Census 25,000 houses were built. Only 1,250 were required to meet local needs. Another 14,350 were ‘needed’ for people who had moved to Cornwall. But 9340 were used in the holiday sector or were otherwise vacant.
On the basis of more up to date figures, CoSERG calculates that to meet all the housing needs of the currently resident population from changes in household formation would require a maximum of just 3,400 houses over the next twenty years – which is equal to 170 houses a year. But some of these households could enter the private market and would not require affordable housing at all.
Don’t we need extra houses to cut the waiting list?
The waiting list, or more correctly the Homechoice Register, is not a reliable measure of housing need. People register for a variety of reasons; they may require a larger or smaller home for example. Or they may want to move to another area. More often it’s a case of affordability.
People are usually surprised to find that most people on the register are already housed. The majority of those in Band E are described as ‘adequately housed’. At 31 December 2012 the Band E category accounted for 56% of all those on the register. The majority of families on the Register live in a property but are finding it difficult t pay the rent or wish to move to a more suitable property. The solution is not as simple as just building new dwellings. It’s more a question of redistributing housing stock and reducing the costs of housing.
The Homechoice Register is frequently misused to generate support for more house building but we should not confuse the issue of affordability with arguments for building more houses. If people already living in accommodation face increasing housing costs that means we solve that problem not build more houses.
Don’t we need more affordable housing?
We certainly do. But there is a distinct difference between providing affordable housing and building more houses. Affordability is a problem because while earnings in Cornwall are way below the average, house prices are above the average. The result is that many households can neither afford to purchase a property or pay the rent for properties on offer.
Councillor Kaczmarek states that many are on the HomeChoice Register as they find it difficult to pay the current level of rent. HCR numbers are probably increasing as more and more households face rising rents on declining incomes.
But dealing with affordability does not mean building more houses. Let’s face it; those in rented property already have a place to live. What they need is lower rents or more support! As we all know Government policies on benefits and rents are making housing less affordable and will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of people on housing registers.
We should not confuse the need for affordable rents (and mortgages) with building more houses. They are not the same issue!
But don’t we need to build more houses so that we get more affordable housing?
For each affordable house we have to build some unaffordable ones. This is because the bulk of affordable houses are delivered not by the public sector (or housing associations) but by private developers. Private developers have to make their profits from unaffordable housing. The danger is clear. To increase the supply of affordable housing for local buyers we must rely on developers’ willingness to build them. And that means allowing developers to build a sufficient number of unaffordable houses for non-local buyers.
It turns out that only 20 per cent of the permissions handed out by Cornwall Council as of January 2012 were affordable. Continuing to build four houses that are beyond the reach of local buyers for every one ‘affordable’ house, or even two unaffordable houses for every affordable one, means we are effectively encouraging more in-migration and paying too high an environmental and cultural cost.
The number of people in temporary accommodation is growing. Surely that tells us we need more housing?
Cornwall Council’s planners made much of the over 4,000 caravans and other temporary housing stock in Cornwall. However, closer inspection of the census data reveals that although the numbers of caravans had indeed risen by around 500 in the 2000s, the number of occupied caravans had actually fallen by 300. All those additional caravans that the planners were so keen to crow about turn out to be empty!
What about overcrowding?
The HomeChoice Register is, moreover, only one measure of housing stress. Another is overcrowding. The ONS define this as having insufficient bedrooms available for the number of people in a household. By that measure, in 2011 2.6 per cent of Cornwall’s households were overcrowded. But this is a lower overcrowding rate than in England or south west England and only half that in Bristol and Bournemouth. Strangely, both these latter places have had their Local Plans approved as ‘sound’ by government inspectors despite their containing lower pro rata housing targets than that being proposed by Cornwall Council.
If we don’t build more houses won’t prices go up?
It’s not so simple as that. House prices are the result of the interaction of several factors. It’s not just how many are built; it’s also what market they are designed for and how demand is created. Houses built to satisfy the luxury market or holiday market do not result in lower prices! And there are lots of those out there – for example ‘Our luxury homes in Newquay are a series of unique and exciting developments, which simply have to be seen to be believed. Our developments will make an ideal home, second home, or bespoke rental investment …’ [Acorn Homes].
Moreover, such a touching faith in market mechanisms is doomed because of the level of latent demand to move to Cornwall. We’d have to be building hundreds of thousands of houses to make any perceptible impact on the price of housing. After all – think about it for a moment we’ve had one of the highest building rates in the UK. But we’ve also had one of the fastest rises in house prices. It doesn’t work!
What about using empty homes?
This sounds a good idea but things are never that simple. To some extent there’ll always be empty homes as some dwellings will be empty between one occupier moving out and another moving in. This could be termed ‘frictional empty housing’. In 2002, the Select Committee for Transport, Local Government and the Regions stated ‘A certain level of vacancy is perfectly normal to allow for the time it takes to sell a house and for people to move. The vacancies associated with the normal workings of the housing market are known as ‘transactional’ or ‘frictional’ vacancies.’
Why are properties empty? The owner may:
- be in hospital, in residential care or in prison
- have died, and there is a dispute over ownership or their next of kin can’t be traced
- have had their home repossessed
- not be able to afford to repair the property
- want to leave the property to their children to deal with after they have died
Other properties will be empty because:
- They are newly completed and have yet to be sold
- Despite being on the market they have not been sold anf their owensr have moved on to another property
- The owner is seeking planning permission to rebuild or convert
- They have been purchased for investment purposes
- The owner neither wishes to sell or rent as they intend to use the property for themselves or others at some future data
The number of long term empty properties (defined those dwellings which have been unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for over six months) is actually around 3,000. Many of these will fall within the categories above. Even if all these were brought into the housing stock it would not solve our housing problems. And it would be a one-off, temporary solution.
Holiday homes and holiday lets
Aren’t holiday homes good for Cornwall?
Holiday homes may be good for their owners but they have a negative impact on the wider community. Buyers of holiday homes and lets have more funds available to buy than the general population. They can and do outbid local buyers. That’s why you get the paradox of rising house prices in a depressed economy.
All the ‘extra’ spend that is attributed to holiday home owners has to be balanced with the extra cost imposed on residents through having to pay more for housing.
Most parts of Cornwall are not affected by holiday homes so, while it may be an issue for some coastal areas, why is it our problem?
Obviously some areas have higher proportions of holiday homes than others –contrast Padstow with Camborne. But that’s to mistake how the housing market operates. More holiday homes in Padstow obviously has an affect on house prices and housing availability in Padstow. However, there is also a ripple effect. People who are excluded from Padstow have to look for housing elsewhere – neighbouring ‘cheaper’ areas will therefore have greater demands put upon them. Higher house prices in Padstow end up rippling out to other areas. Then there’s the policy of allocating more homes to the less touristy areas so more houses than local need would justify have to be built. Residents in Bodmin might well see a treasured green space disappear because more houses are built to accommodate refugees from the areas dominated by holiday homes. In reality all areas of Cornwall are affected by the holiday sector.
How many holiday homes are there?
The most recent data gives a figure of 14,000 but there are also 8,300 holiday lets. That’s a total of over 22,000.
Why not just build on brownfield land?
Let us know if you find it! Like the Higgs-Boson, it’s pretty elusive as most sites which are referred to as ‘brownfield’ invariably turn out not to be. A good example is the Boilerworks site in Camborne. It’s not a boilerworks – it’s farmland!
A great deal was made of the ‘extensive’ areas of brownfield land in the Camborne-Redruth area during the planning process. But most ‘brownfield’ land consisted of land which had been mined in the 19th century and had since regenerated into green areas.
The vast majority of land which has been allocated for development is greenfield.
But there’s lots of undeveloped land out there, so why don’t we build on it?
The view from County Hall is a Cornwall where 95 per cent is ‘undeveloped land’. The implication is that it’s sitting around waiting patiently, just ripe for ‘development’. It’s preferable to see that land as a resource that, far from being ‘undeveloped’ has been shaped and farmed – developed in fact – by generations of Cornish farmers. It’s provided us with food, fuel and space for leisure and relaxation for centuries. It’s a resource that should be handed on essentially undamaged to future generations.
‘Undeveloped’ land is an essential resource – we already as a society consume more resources than are available.
Aren’t opponents of more housing just NIMBYs?
Name calling is never a substitute for reasoned debate. Are there NIMBYs out there? Probably. Very often they hide away and pretend they would never be a NIMBY – then you find out they live in an area where development is unlikely or have a holiday home in a nice location!
It’s quite possible for someone in an AONB not to appear as a selfish NIMBY, to appear as quite virtuous in fact. Whereas the resident of a clay village who has some reservations about changes to their environment because Wain Homes want to develop an estate, is the opposite. Then of course there are those who directly gain from housing developments – developers, estate agents, landowners. Do they reside in or adjacent to the proposed housing? More than likely not.
People object to development proposals not just because it affects them but also because it has a wider impact – on sustainability, resource use, the wider environment. Some people also object because deep down they have a sneaking feeling that building all those houses next door won’t make much difference to local housing need. They’ve heard the arguments before and they just don’t add up.
So if you don’t want to be classified as a NIMBY, live somewhere nice where it’s unlikely that there will be any development proposed. Easier of course if you are affluent, nigh impossible if you are not.
So what do you think the housing target should be?
CoSERG proposes two targets – a short-term figure of 29,000 and a mid to long-term figure of 12,000.
The short term figure is based on extrapolating trends and working within the current centralised regulations which force us to ‘accommodate’ continuing in-migration. However, as the long-term trend of in-migration is declining and as mean household size is now almost stable, we calculate this requires nothing like the Council’s 42,250 house target. This is because we do not think we should have to go on also feeding the need’ for holiday homes. We have the highest proportion of these in the UK. It’s time to say enough is enough.
The mid to long term figure is based on a steady state, stable population scenario whereby the in-migration comes into a near balance with out-migration. The housing target is then derived from meeting only the needs due to household change among the existing Cornish community with an extra element to increase affordability. This would need to be coupled with policy changes such as a 100% affordable homes new build policy, heavy taxation of second homes and strictly applied local connections criteria for all new housing.
But some communities want more growth?
So they say. What do the words actually mean? Communities – well some councillors in some areas have bought the more houses is good for you assertion, that’s not the same as the community. Growth? When asked if they want more jobs or affordable housing people will innocently say yes. What they mean is they want good jobs and everyone housed. They don’t mean ‘yes build lots of houses, most of which will not house people in housing need!’ And neither do they mean ‘lots more low paid, unskilled jobs!’
Cornish Social and Economic Research Group, April 2013