The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day Twelve – A New Year Present from ‘The Prof’

Eric Gut

Eric ‘Feeble’ Robinson – living off the fat of the land (Green Belt included)

‘A retired professor in Bromborough’ with an ‘alternative approach…which a number of people are seeking to attach importance’ Eric Robinson (Wirral Council CEO) on ‘The Prof’ and the people who pay his (over-inflated) salary

‘Be vigilant and defend Wirral in 2019’ – The Prof’

Who do we rely on for our information about Wirral’s Green Belt ladies and gentleman? – ‘The Prof’ or Stressed Eric and his equally overpaid QC (which you also pay for). IOHO the former is cheaper (but priceless) , more reliable and certainly unbiddable.

Gentlemen I thought you might like a small New Year present.

The Wirral Green Belt ‘resistance’ persuaded (Margaret) Greenwood in October
to ask  (Eric) Robinson (Wirral Council CEO)  what the hell is going on. He has just replied with an interesting letter. By accident it contains useful new information on numbers
and their approach to the local plan. They still fail to make clear the bloody
obvious fact that even in the worst case (12,000 houses target ) and using their
own brownfield figures we would only need ~413 acres of green belt not 4,900
acres. ie. just 8.4% of the GB parcel list they published. Using the 7,320
target, they claim they are pushing to the government, we would need just
1.7% of the published list (85 acres). To put all this in perspective the Hoylake
Golf Resort project would build houses on ~300 acres. It’s also clear they have
instructed their expensive QC not to use the flexibility inherent in the national
planning framework.
I have changed my mind about motivation. I now believe the council is happy
to release all the land , 4,900 acres, from the GB in one go …if they can get
away with it. Wirral would then be a bonanza area for developers for decades
to come …far beyond actual local plan requirements. In reality there are
accepted options for a phased release of land as future requirements become
clearer but this would cripple their plans. I believe they fear that government
ONS data will be discredited this year and my forecast of  a need for zero GB
land will be proved. If so they will get no significant GB land development unless
they release it now. See my analysis (below) for more.

COMMENTS ON THE LETTER FROM ERIC ROBINSON TO
MARGARET GREENWOOD MP (Dec. 2018)
I will try to confine my comments mainly to the issue of housing requirement projections and green belt land needs under Robinson’s various letter headings.
‘Lack of Clarity on Wirral’s Housing Needs’
Mr. Robinson gives a one page useful summary of the history and current status of this issue. Unfortunately there are misleading statements involved which need correcting as we go. Mr. Robinson begins with the 2016 SHMA by Lichfield Consultancy. He notes the range of forecasts provided (from among 13 scenarios) as 875 to 1,235 houses per annum. Readers may note that the lower figure is higher than the proposed 803 h/a proposed by the government. However several things must be noted.
The total numbers quoted refer to 18 years not a 15 year period.
These numbers are not based on the approved ‘standard method’ in several respects. Notably they include assumptions about council policy and economic impacts which play no part in the standard method.
They are based on out of date SNPP 2012 population/household data.
The high estimate of population growth from 3 is selected (10,140) although they acknowledge a long term migration scenario based on real history which predicts a population growth of just 66 over 18 years.
Large uplifts are made for assumptions concerning ‘pent up demand’ which depend on optimistic economic forecasts and a high household formation rate.
Also Robinson does not mention the Liverpool LEP job scenario which gives 188 h/a nor the actual recent housing delivery rate of 383 h/a which we can say reflects all factors in play. Six of the 13 scenarios cluster tightly around a rate of 470 h/a or 7,050 in 15 years compared with 875 to 1,235 reported. (This compares with numbers from 5,923 to 7,170 obtained using the standard method from the latest ONS population / household data by this author and the 7,320 obtained by the council).
Based on the raw demographic data in the 2016 SHMA, without doubtful economic uplifts, we would obtain 563 h/a. If we took the average of the two population figures they quote we obtain 284 h/a before uplifts. These yield 2,820 or 4,260 or 8,440 houses over 15 years. One wonders if anyone at the council has read the SHMA report of 2016. It cost us over fifty thousand pounds to produce but its many warnings and caveats were ignored.
The author has no argument with the current standard method as a demographic starting point. Most of the projections made in my own housing report used as a basis for green belt housing requirements, used the standard method. Robinson fails to mention this fact and speaks only of an ‘alternative’ method, seeking to dismiss this work. The real problem as Robinson acknowledges is the quality and instability of the ONS population and household data and I add, the unintelligent use of ‘trend analysis’. Our housing requirements fall from 2012 to 2014 to 2016 not because of the method but because the data is unstable and still suffering from reconciliation problems between the 2001 and 2011 censuses which the ONS acknowledges as a problem nationally. In our case the basic ‘natural’ internal population projections should be quite accurate and can be calculated mechanically. They show the population decline which has been the norm here for decades. Our local problem is that the mechanical application of the ONS trend rules to historical migration data leads to a massive, unrealistic over estimate of net migration into Wirral as my report explained. This was acknowledged also by Lichfield Consultants in the 2016 SMHA as I have repeatedly pointed out, but ‘magiced’ away by referencing the brain-free ONS ‘rules’.
Robinson notes a ‘retired professor in Bromborough’ with an ‘alternative approach…which a number of people are seeking to attach importance’ to. I assume this is me. This is very disingenuous and dismissive. I repeat, my appendix 1 and 2 tables showing the implications for green belt land requirements are based on the standard method and ONS data. I also provided forecasts based on variations of trend analysis to demonstrate how sensitive targets are to slight variations in assumptions and data. I also apply official government variant scenarios on migration and life expectancy scaled to the Wirral, to show the effects of recent events. These further reduce our future housing requirements. The council readily considered the 13 scenarios created in the 2016 SMHA Lichfield Consultancy report so surely ‘a retired professor in Bromborough’ can also legitimately explore and report half a dozen explanatory scenarios? What is the council afraid of? Could it be they fear the Wirral ‘general public’ being properly informed for once about their manipulations?
Robinson’s QC is correct in advising the council that they should prepare a local plan case based on the standard method, whenever that stabilises. However the issue of data is another matter. The ONS data bases are in disarray across the country. At some point this will be challenged by some, competent, well informed local authorities. Wirral should be prepared for this by looking closely at all the relevant local historical demographic data with emphasis on migration projections… as I have attempted to begin to do. I will continue to seek out independent (official) data, such as registered voters, which allows dependable population, migration and household trends to be estimated for use in the standard model: we cannot rely on ONS projections or ‘estimates’ between censuses. They are completely discredited …as the recent government panic reactions prove.
‘Wirral Waters’, etc & Green Belt Land Requirements
Robinson’s note provides additional, new information on council assumptions. He tells us that ‘any figure over about 406 houses per year (equivalent to 6,090 over 15 years) would trigger a need to consider land to be released from the Green Belt’. Let us use the council’s own numbers to see what this actually means. On the September 2018 ONS household projections and the standard method the council says we need 7,320 houses. This is about right. This means that we need 7,320 – 6090 = 1,230 house places on GB land. The average government NW density figure is 14.5 houses per acre so we would need just 84.8 acres of GB. But the local plan GB release land parcels amount to ~4,900 acres. This is 58 X the area actually needed to meet the housing target. However the council may be forced to accept the earlier 2014 ONS data based target of 12,045 houses. This means that 12,045 – 6090 = 5,995 house places on GB would be needed. But this is just 413 acres compared with the 4,900 acres up for release. The GB release area proposed is 11.9 X the area required in the council’s own worst case scenario.
Why is it that these critical facts have not been explained to the public? I suggest that it is intended to muddy the waters. If 4,900 acres of GB land are released in this local plan ‘because the council is being forced to by the government…we have no choice’, developers (and the council) can relax and cherry pick the (up to) 413 acres actually needed, for maximum profit and convenience all round: perhaps over the full 15 years plan period. But this leaves ~4,487 acres of released GB permanently available for building, beyond the highest local plan requirements, if all the currently proposed GB land parcels are released.
Wirral would become from now on, the ultimate free for all target area for developers and speculators in the northwest. No doubt that is the plan, unless it is stopped.
If we wish to preserve Wirral in anything like its present form, the public must object loudly in the final public consultation on the Local Plan in 2019 if more than the absolute maximum said to be necessary, 413 acres of GB land, is put forward for release.
The release of 4,900 acres in one ‘apocalypse now’, is totally unjustified on the council’s own data and worst case assumptions.
It may be by mid 2019 that a revised standard methodology and an ONS data challenge will show an even smaller GB area is actually needed than 413 acres. I will continue to look into this. I suggest that when the dust settles we will find a demographic housing need of less than 3,000 houses. However the other side of the equation is how much land is available outside current green belt. Current council claims on this also need to be looked at very carefully. Robinson quotes a number of 6,090 house places available on non-GB land. Let us examine this against published brown field sites (as surveyed by the council), the contentious Peel/Wirral Waters numbers and actual empty house refurbishment.
Earlier this year the council said it had identified 2,400 places on 91 ‘brown field’ sites. This would leave 6,090 – 2,400 = 3,690 other identified places on non-GB sites. What are these? What about the Peel plans? Robinson spends considerable space in his letter attacking the Peel position, which continues the council stance taken throughout 2018. Peel were identified to the public as the villains of the piece. Robinson rejects Peel’s ‘higher scenario’ offer which presumably is the 13,571 dwellings with outline planning permission. However Peel made it clear to the government and in a public letter in 2018, that this figure only ever applied to the full 30 year Wirral Waters project span. The ‘medium scenario’ offer was 6,450 dwellings subject to council financial support on infrastructure, etc. Robinson does not mention the minimum delivery offer from Peel of 2,900 dwellings which appears to come with few strings attached (see below). One would think that urgent negotiations would now be under way with Peel and it appears Robinson’s ‘leading’ QC has sent a letter to elicit, after several years of discussion, a detailed development schedule.
N.B. From Robinson’s letter the position appears to be that the council will take the hardest interpretation of the NPPF rules in putting forward non-GB land availability and other matters in the local plan. One could see this as a cautious, conservative approach but there has been much discussion nationally about NPPF interpretation and implicit flexibility on ‘availability’, ‘deliverability’, ‘viability’, etc. If the council is not intending to seek out this flexibility and use it, by so directing their expensive QC, Wirral residents might reasonably assume that it simply wants to release as much Green Belt land as possible by hiding behind alleged ‘harsh Conservative government’ rules and ‘unreliable development partners’. Residents might wonder why. See above.
Let us return now to the numbers game. The unidentified 3,690 places on non-GB land implied by Robinson can be compared with the lower, deliverable Peel offer of 2,900 dwellings. Using this leaves 3,690 – 2,900 = 790 houses or ~53 houses per annum. Despite the negative bluster perhaps Robinson actually expects Peel to deliver their minimum offer at least. The other 790 houses may come from empty house recovery. Data supplied by a councillor suggested there were ~4,000 (> 6 months) empty houses on Wirral in 2017. In recent years the average house recovery rate (by the council) was ~238 h/a (based on their own data). So recovery of ~53 h/y or higher should be quite feasible in future.
In my local plan submission I included two tables showing the impact of various brown field options on GB requirements. I can now update these using the new council data from Robinson, for the readers’ interest. We keep the 2,400 brown field council data and the 790 houses inferred from recovery, in total 3,190. Suppose now the council comes to an accommodation with Peel on their ‘medium scenario’. This would replace 2,900 with 6,450 giving in total 9,640 dwellings. If we allowed double the inferred empty house recovery rate we have 53 x 2 = 106 p/a. This still only 44% of the actual recent rate. In this case we would have in total 9,640 + 790 = 10,430 places on brown field sites. Green Belt land needed in the worst (target) case becomes 12,045 – 10,340 = 1,705 dwelling places or ~118 acres compared with proposed 4,900 acres of parcel release.
Now it is accepted that local plans will be regularly reviewed and evolve over time as Robinson tells us in his letter. At worst then, we start with a stated need for ~413 acres of GB land over 15 years. But assuming a modest level of competence in the council and good will between Peel and the council, the ‘medium scenario’, deliverable in say 5 or 10 years time, implies only ~118 acres of GB is needed in total. I would assume that a ‘leading’ QC would be able to elegantly mount the appropriate arguments about land release phasing.
However the council points to a need for only 7,320 houses during the plan period based on the most recent 2016 ONS projections and the standard method. If this becomes accepted again, or this is forced upon the government by evidence presented by a number of councils with competence and backbones, or by independent analysts, the Peel ‘medium scenario’ tells us that total brown field places would be 10,430 and so NO Green Belt at all is needed to meet the local plan, as I argued clearly in my local plan submissions in September 2018. It is probable that it will soon emerge that the ONS demographic projection system is broken and the local authority level ONS data generally is unreliable for important decision making. However we should not rely passively on this scandal breaking.
If the council genuinely wishes to protect our Green belt as it repeatedly states, it should prioritise three actions:
Stop playing political games and negotiate urgently with Peel Holdings.

Accept the standard method but challenge the ONS population and household projections for Wirral. Among other things: consult other councils with similar misleading data problems and organise resistance; jointly commission a formal critique of the ONS automatic trend rules and data stability e.g. from the Royal Statistical Society; seek independent (but official) data to establish actual Wirral net migration trends as these dominate, unrealistically, all the government projections.

Present a phased local plan to the full extent the ‘rules’ allow, emphasising the national failings and problems with the ONS data and projection methods: the clear aim being to limit the release of GB land to the minimum necessary at any given time and NOT the reverse, which appears to be the current policy.
‘Green belt and urban sprawl’
The council does have an obligation to properly assess all available alternatives. It may choose to assess all GB parcels put forward as available for development. But to be clear: it is not obliged to release any GB land in excess of that needed to make up any shortfall from available brown field sites. We have shown that even with the worst case target using the government standard method and data, only ~ 8.4% of the council proposed GB release list would be needed. On the forecast based on the 2016 ONS data, argued (we are assured) by the council, to the government, only ~1.7% of the GB release list would be needed.
The letter gives some hints as to how the ~8% might be selected. Such sites ‘are either physically enclosed by the wider urban area or would not reduce the physical separation between existing Settlement Areas…which means their impact on urban sprawl would be much less when compared with other parts of the GB.’ These are weasel words which local activists need to look at carefully in each case. Note particularly Robinson’s comments on Irby, Thingwall, Pensby, Heswall and parts of Barnston and Gayton. Since these are all part of SA7 one gets the impression anything goes here. However the local plan background documents also discuss the attraction (in the minds of council planners) of creating a hard (neat) green belt boundary at the M53 by ‘filling in’ the whole area of high quality farm land to its east side from Storeton down to Poulton Hall and again at Eastham. Nobody living here can feel relaxed with such openly declared, Big Brother thinking. However Robinson tries to reassure us by saying ‘some of these sites may [still] be found unsuitable for other reasons, which would need to be demonstrated on the basis of technical evidence.’ However in the Infrastructure section of his letter we learn that as yet no assessments have been made in several key areas: transport, strategic flood risk, agriculture, biodiversity and sustainability. The council ‘will be commissioning a series of technical and environmental studies…’ but ‘specialist consultants’ have yet to be appointed as 2018 ends. We are told that at least the council is talking to education and health service providers. Let us hope so.
The author, given that we are now ‘Borough of Culture 2019’, notes there is no mention of assessing the impact of GB housing estates on our rich historical heritage on Wirral. To take just one example, powerful evidence now exists that the great Battle of Brunanburh, the equal of Hastings in defining English history, took place in the area between Storeton Village / Higher Bebington and Poulton Hall with the centre near Clatterbridge. Most of this land area is east of the M53 and it is all on the GB release list. Already, even before general GB release, the building of 27 luxury homes has been approved (on appeal) on GB land next to historic Storeton Hall, which will be converted into luxury apartments. It is widely believed, based on known commercial links and clear conflicts of interest, that the council made only a limp wristed attempt to stop this development at the appeal. This is the future of Wirral GB, chopped up quietly, piece by piece, unless the government and council are challenged strongly on all matters discussed earlier and on the basis of hard evidence. Much more could be said about misleading council behaviour. Be vigilant and defend Wirral in 2019.

Professor D P Gregg (retired)

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Wirral Council playing the ‘Numbers Game’ with the Green Belt

Green Numbers

The turf war political tit-for-tat over the Green Belt continues. The latest instalment comes  courtesy of Wirral Globe giving Conservative group leader Cllr Ian Lewis and then Deputy leader of Wirral Council , Cllr George Davies, a platform to repeat the same empty soundbites about who’s fault it is that Wirral’s Green Belt is under threat (although we did laugh at the suggestion that Cllr George Davies was ‘writing exclusively for The Globe’ .)  We’re sure we all know who the ghost writer was . We wonder whether this could be one of the ‘shadowy figures’ that  Cllr Lewis refers to in his conspiratorial opinion piece? Whatever neither of them seem able to definitively identify how many houses that Wirral needs over the coming years and where they should be built. Of course not having a ‘Local Plan’ in place doesn’t help does it?

Thankfully we have ‘The Prof’ on hand to dig a little deeper than the shallow political rhetoric . We’d like th

dig

Gentlemen …for the (dated) record I have used the best ‘official’ ONS data I can find. I doubt we can do any better until the next census in 2021. The bottom line is I doubt if the population driven housing need will be more than 100 houses per annum or 1,500 over the plan period…a long way from 6,600 and 12,000. This means only a small fraction of the brown field sites already identified by the council and Peel will be needed. I want this latest analysis on the record since I have been told the council has hired someone from Liverpool University to ‘have a go’ at my work.

Should I be flattered do you think ? My contact now tells me that councillors are being told about the Liverpool University ‘critique’of my work. The contact was surprised that the council had not informed me of their intentions as a matter of courtesy. I agree.

Green Belt – Keep calm and listen to ‘The Prof’

Nobody knows

‘The Great Wirral Green Belt Debacle’ shows no sign of abating with Wirral Council and central government playing pass the parcel (of land) and continuing to dispute statistical information which is being used to influence Wirral’s future housing needs . Read more  here

It all gives the impression that politicians and public officials don’t know what they’re doing or that the continuing threat to Wirral’s Green Belt is borne of  ignorance of the facts or from questionable political/financial motives.

Thankfully we have ‘The Prof’ on hand to waft the smoke away from the mirrors . Here’s his take on the latest developments and a copy of a letter he’s written to James Brokenshire ,the  Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

This council never seems to learn. Having cried wolf on the green belt issue before it now does it again, helped along by our crazy central government. Let’s look at the facts, one more time, and leave out the Mickey Mouse stuff. The council says it has identified 91 sites which could host 2,400 houses. Peel Holdings have confirmed to the council that they CAN deliver a minimum of 2,900 houses in the local plan period and up to 6,450 houses subject to assistance with infrastructure costs. At the current rate of recovery (by the council themselves) 3,570 empty houses could be brought back into use over the plan period. This gives us 8,870 to 12,420 houses available on brown field sites. But the 803 houses per annum 2017 government target requires a total of 12,045 houses. So at best WE STILL need NO green belt land. At worst we need GB land for 3,175 houses. But the council plan aims to release 4,900 acres : sufficient at normal densities for 71,000 houses. So AT WORST we would need just 4.5% of the green belt the council wants to release for housing development to their speculator friends.That is 220 acres, NOT 4,900 acres. Yet again Wirral residents are being treated with contempt by this council. If the council decide to release the 50 sites in their green belt plan do not be fooled into thinking it has anything to do with central government. It is to do with council politics and greed. How much longer will Wirral voters put up  with this perfidious mob?

Dear Minister

I am a retired professor of mathematical modelling who has been looking
closely at the old and new housing needs methodology. The new methodology has the merit of simplicity and consistency which I understood was your aim.
I can though, understand your frustration that it gives far lower UK housing needs numbers than you hoped for, for policy reasons. However despite the lobbying you have no doubt received from disappointed developers and house builders the basic methodology may not be at fault. I trust the formal statistical review now underway will look closely at the ONS population projections used.
As you are aware something went badly awry between the 2001 and 2011 censuses resulting in large apparent population discontinuities in many locations.
The ‘corrections’ then made, left ‘fingerprints’ on the historical data later used to make the population projections for the standard method. In my own area of Merseyside this has caused havoc! The forecasts have been very unstable as we moved forward from 2012 to 2014 to 2016.
More importantly, to take my own Wirral LA as an example, the projected net migration into Wirral is at least 3X greater than actually experienced in the recent decade, based on several other ONS data sources and independent local time series such as voter registrations.
Since the Wirral internal, natural population is falling this ‘mythical’ migration greatly inflates the ONS population projections and consequently housing needs. Instead of 800 houses per annum (on the old methodology) and perhaps 440 (on the new) , a more likely number is in the range zero to 200 if we also consider your official, ONS low migration scenarios.
This excludes the need to replace local demolitions and the effects of changing housing mix needs. Now I am sure that in many other local authorities  across the country the census problem has worked in the opposite direction, underestimating actual population growth and transfers between authorities. In conclusion, the UK population projections are suspect and ideally should be checked, local authority by local authority, tedious though this is. We shall be doing this in detail for Wirral to provide statistical evidence for any future investigations by your housing inspectors into local planning intentions. I hope this note is of help.
Best wishes,
Professor D P Gregg (retired)

Dear Eric – Open Letter : Wirral Housing Needs to 2033

Eric Gut

Mr. Eric Robinson, CE
Wirral Council, PO BOX 290
Brighton St., Wallasey CH27 9FQ 23.09.18

Dear Mr. Robinson

OPEN LETTER: WIRRAL HOUSING NEEDS TO 2033

As you have no doubt heard the government has updated the national and local population and household projections for the next 25 years (ONS website September 21st 2018). In the case of Wirral both the population growth and the household numbers growth have halved based on 2016 data. However you apply the numbers (for example by referencing back to your Litchfield Consultants report of 2016) the result is effectively the same. Instead of 12,000 houses over the fifteen year plan only ~5,900 are needed. Any attempts to ‘uplift’ this number based on now mythical economic growth scenarios, or affordability factors, or the later release of ‘pent up’ demand in certain age groups, will not be credible in the light of recent government economic forecasts. Indeed the credibility of the government housing needs methodology will now come under close scrutiny. I should also tell you that the latest population forecast growth to 2033 relies entirely on a large net migration into Wirral which your own consultants questioned in 2016. I expect the newly released numbers to be further challenged and actual Wirral future housing needs forecasts will be lower still (~4,400 based on current trends).
The housing implications are obvious. Some weeks ago I submitted an analysis to the public consultation which was also widely published. I enclose a copy. It works through several housing scenarios using brown field, Peel offers and empty house recovery assumptions for the 12,000 houses target and for that target simply scaled down by the changed population forecast (i.e. 7,100 houses). You can see that very little of your 4,900 acres proposed GB parcel release plan would be required. This land could support 71,000 houses. With the new government household growth forecasts the 15 year plan period housing needs drop to ~5,900. The effects of this are shown in the second document enclosed. Under most scenarios NO green belt land needs be used at all to meet housing needs. At most it would be a few percent of your 4,900 acre GB parcel release plan. The ‘plan’ is totally spurious and unjustified by the ‘official’ data.
In these circumstances I suggest the public consultation should be halted until the council makes the new housing need numbers clear to all Wirral residents and compares them honestly with your GB release plan proposals which in principle could accommodate 71,000 houses. It is not good enough for David Ball to tell public consultation meetings that the numbers will be looked at in camera, by a council appointed ‘expert’, ‘some time’ in the future. Alternatively the GB release plan could be withdrawn now before formal challenges to it emerge.

Professor D P Gregg (retired)

(Claremont Defenders Group)

 

The Great Green Belt Deception : Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Statistics

We proudly present a message from ‘The Prof’ along with his measured analysis of the newly released data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the significant impact it should have the Green Belt debate. Spoiler alert : NO GREEN BELT IS NEEDED TO MEET HOUSING DEMAND!  

Gents….the new ONS population / household growth forecasts for Wirral have just halved. (Still too high though). This means that Green Belt land requirements should be slashed even further than I suggested a few weeks ago. With a bit of the brown field already identified and a bit of Wirral Waters and a bit of refurbished empty housing NO Green Belt land release is needed.

The  council should objectively inform the public of the new numbers, halt the consultation and scrap their crazy 4,900 acre Green Belt release plan immediately. If they don’t we should ask why not?

Has too much money already changed hands? See the needs analysis attached . Click here :  WirralHousingTABLESEPT18 2
Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 12.53.39

 

Statistics 2

The Wirral Council Playbooks

The Great Green Belt Deception

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The above leaked internal Labour document shows the dissembling and deception over Wirral’s Green Belt that is going on behind the scenes at embattled local Labour HQ.

Labour HQ presumably being council leader Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies’ West Kirby home where faithful factotum Martin Liptrot bangs out the bogus press releases from his well-worn laptop on the kitchen table – assuming ,of course, that Liptrotsky is currently not ‘indisposed’ after his recent ,ahem, travel difficulties.

Prepare for the local press to print ,without question or edit, a news release blaming the Government for threatened assaults on the Green Belt and citing ‘miscalculations’ in statistics and how Wirral Council have been ‘proved right’. Nothing to do with the fact that Wirral Council hasn’t had a Local Plan for 14 years or that the ruling Labour administration have been playing  fast and loose with facts and figures to suit their political agenda or that they’ve been using the local press to try and make out that they are the saviours of the Green Belt when all the evidence points to the fact that they won’t be happy until Wirral is one big concrete jungle with a golf resort.

However it is the contempt with which the ruling Labour administration at Wirral Council (or what’s left of it anyway) treat the people of Wirral that particularly galls us. Fortunately there is a growing number of  well-informed people out there who have sussed out the town hall machinations.  Call us a Cassandra but we called this one out from the outset in our  Green Gauge Summer  post from July where we commented :

Is anyone taken in by this carefully orchestrated bullshit? Shall we gauge this summer by the amount of bogus stories about the alleged threat to Wirral’s Green Belt that clearly emanate from the power elite within Wallasey Town Hall?

Sure enough there has been enough wasted newsprint on the subject to turn Wirral’s Green Belt into landfill . All this is is to set up the scenario where Pip’s posse rides into town to save the day from evil Government interlopers trying to take over Dodgy City. The only problem is we’ve all seen this movie a million times ,the plot is predictable and Pip is no Clint Eastwood. He’s not so much the ‘The Man With No Name’ as ‘The Man With No Shame’ and ain’t nobody is gonna be taken in by this cowboy…

cowboy-_-Phil

.

Green Belt : Do You Want Facts and Figures or Fake News ?

Whilst the Green Belt political panto ploughs on in the local papers , here at Wirral Leaks   we provide you with a special cut out and keep report from ‘The Prof’ which we think is the definitive word on the matter. There is a summary of his findings at the start. But for those who want to be better informed about the Green Belt debate there is a full analysis.

  HOUSING & GREEN BELT LAND REQUIREMENTS to 2032
: WIRRAL COUNCIL FAKE NEWS

  • The council Green Belt ‘release plan’ covers ~8 square miles or 4,900 acres.
  • This land could support 71,000 homes (at typical NW density of 14.6 dw / acre).
  • But the government / council housing need forecast is for 12,000 houses.
  • So the GB land fraction required is only ~17% of the council ‘release plan’.
  • However based on ACTUAL population and household number changes in
    the last decade and allowing for lower economic growth post Brexit and a slowdown in UK life expectancy improvement, probable new housing need is 200 to 300 houses per annum NOT 800.
  • So the land required would be only ~6% of the GB ‘release plan’ in that case.
  • But the council says it has identified Brown Field sites for 2,400 houses and will build there first. If so the fraction of land required from the GB ‘release plan’ would be only ~3%
  • The council has deliberately exaggerated the ‘Green Belt Problem’ and caused great distress to many Wirral residents for purely political reasons. After the Green Belt review in December 2018 they will claim that they have ‘heroically’ saved most of the land on their GB ‘release plan’… land that was never needed in the first place.
  • Even so some sites listed will draw the short straw since building on Green Belt is more profitable than building on Brown Field sites for the developers. The council will gain from higher rates from Green Belt luxury homes. Very few ‘affordable houses’ will be built because of the ‘viability test’ loophole. The developers gain; the politicians gain; but what about the Wirral residents who elected them who are routinely treated with contempt ?

 

Wirral Housing Need Forecasts 2014 – 2032 

& Green Belt Land Requirements: Fake News

1 Summary
The government has told Wirral Council that they must build 800 homes per annum or 12,000 in total over the period 2014 to 2032. Despite having granted planning permission already for ~ 16,000 dwellings, mainly on brown field sites, the Council have decided to seek out landowners and developers ready to ‘release’ Green Belt land for housing development. This has led to 50 sites being identified (Figure 4). This land amounts to ~8 square miles of Wirral countryside. Both government and council have ignored the existing ~6,000 empty properties on the Wirral. The government and the ‘land bankers’ such as Peel Holdings have been blamed by the Council for this catastrophic situation. However the Council commissioned Housing Study of 2016 found a housing requirement of 835 to 1,235 units per annum. In fact the same complex methodology underlies both housing estimates. It is at heart still based on guesswork and produces a remarkably wide range of forecasts. The politicians can find almost any number that suits them politically. In the case of the Council this was a desire to promote their miraculous economic growth policies for Wirral.
Given the uncertainties a better approach is to consider actual recent and longer term population and household growth rates and growth rate ranges and base forecasts on these with possible adjustments for general economic growth prospects e.g Brexit effects. We do that below and find housing build rates of 200 to 300 per annum, not 800. At this level the amount of Green Belt needed (ignoring the brown belt land available) would be only ~6% of the land targeted by the Council for development release. At 800 homes per annum the fraction of Green Belt needed would only be ~17% of the Council plan. Wirral residents are being fed highly distressing fake news and alternative facts by the Council. We should all be asking why? Quo bono? Who benefits? It is certainly not Wirral residents.
2 The Wirral SHMA and Housing Needs Study 2016

This study was commissioned by Wirral Council and completed by the Nathan Litchfield Consultancy. It is 263 pages long. It uses approved data from government sources and approved analysis methods commonly used by other local authorities. It freely references work by other groups which is commendable. It fully reports its assumptions and considers over a dozen alternative scenarios. It is a comprehensive, workman-like job. Sadly government departments and councils do not always fully report or understand what their consultants tell them about the uncertainties in modelling and forecasting. Quite often the politician can take almost any number that suits him from such a report. Let’s start with the report output and the 13 scenarios shown in Figure 1.

We see that the forecast of houses needed by 2032 varies from 3,400 to 22,200 (the most extreme scenario of building 46,530 ‘affordable’ houses has not been considered here as the report drops it). This range covers a factor of 6.6 X. The dotted line is the 800 houses per annum target imposed by government (but also compatible with Litchfield’s final proposal to the council). The thick line shows the result using the actual Wirral annual delivery of 383 houses per annum in the recent decade.

 

FIGURE 1

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The 383 figure reflects recent reality in terms of Wirral demographics, economic migration and the state of the house building market. If forecasters, councils and governments insist on very different numbers for housing growth they should be required to show cause…particularly if the forecast impacts negatively on the quality of life of large numbers of Wirral residents and threatens the loss of irreplaceable high quality farm land and core biodiversity refuges in the Green Belt. Despite the fancy talk of ‘evidence based’ planning by governments the fact is much of what passes for analysis is guess work often based on unstable base data as we will see. Forecasts are often politics based not evidence based.

3 Wirral Population & Household Numbers History
The starting point of the ‘official’ methodologies used for housing needs forecasting are the future demographics of the area population. If these are wrong then all that follows in terms of ‘economic policy uplifts’ and the rest, is pointless. The official government (ONS) historic data on Wirral population changes from 1990 onwards has been remarkably unstable and subject to regular ‘adjustments’. This does not give confidence in the official data nor in forecasts based on it even before imaginative economic scenarios are appended to the basic demographics. Figure 2 shows the population history from 1991 to 2011 before ‘adjustments’ were made to make some consistent sense of the data. In 1990 the population was about 336,000. By 2010 population had apparently fallen to around 309,000 a decline of ~0.45 % per annum overall. Decline slowed to -0.31 % after 2005. By contrast the ONS forecasts for 2012 to 2035 projected a growth of +0.15% per annum.

FIGURE 2

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At the 2011 census the embarrassing historical numbers were ‘uplifted’ to reconcile with those of the census. The varying ONS forecasts from various, almost successive years are concerning. Looking at 2008 base data is interesting. 2008 to 2012 we are told was a period of ‘national recession and economic stagnation’. On that basis population was projected to fall long term! Later the 2010 base rate was adjusted to correct for the census gap. By 2012 the base numbers were adjusted upwards but the end point in 2032 was the same! These are a remarkable set of estimates and forecasts for all the wrong reasons. Here are the various ‘adjustments’ made after 2010.

Start year Population 2032 Population
ONS 2008 base 2008 309,000 304,000
ONS 2010 base 2010 310,000 329,000
ONS 2012 base 2012 320,000 330,000
The reader should note the apparent sensitivity of the Wirral population to economic conditions. Current UK growth is still very modest. Borrowing and debt levels are very high. Interest rates are very low but beginning to increase. A possibly hard Brexit will further dampen growth as the government acknowledges. Please note: none of this is built into the current forecasts of Wirral housing demand and the forecasts used for job growth and so on in the 2016 report were already optimistic. They assume that Wirral Council’s ‘growth stimulation’ policies will work. History from 1990 suggests otherwise.

Nevertheless the forecast is for a major turnaround in the 20 year decay of Wirral’s population. Even if we accept this forecast (which will be challenged in section 4) note also that the population in 2032 (~330,000) has not yet recovered to the level of 1991 (~336,000). Nevertheless it seems we need to build an additional 800 houses per annum until 2032 to house a supposed additional ~10,000 people. By 2015 the government figures for Wirral had changed again (see below).

4. Forecasts of Population & Households to 2032
The core basis of the Wirral SHMA and Housing Needs Study 2016 are the local demographics. If these are wrongly forecast everything else falls. As we just saw the historical data is all over the place but we must try. Figure 3 shows the reconciled (final?) population history of Wirral and the supposed household numbers. We will work with these since the council and government do so. ONS Estimated Resident Population tables to mid-2016 tell us that the population in mid 2011 was 319,800 souls and in mid 2016 was 321,200 souls. This gives us a growth rate of 280 persons per annum.
Household numbers in 2011 were 141,000 and in mid 2014 142,400. Note that from 1991 to 2001 there was no growth in household numbers. So HH size in 2011 was 2.27, in 2014 2.255. Recently HH size has been falling at ~0.005 per annum. At that rate by 2032 HH size would have fallen to 2.17 persons. However ONS ‘Families and Households 2017’ shows that across England from 2013 to 2017 HH size stagnated. HH size change is related to increased life expectancy which has been increasing for many decades.

However the ONS Human Mortality Database just published shows a massive drop in life expectancy growth rate (2006 / 2011 12.9 weeks per annum for women down to 1.2 weeks per annum in 2011 / 2016; 2006 /2011 17.3 weeks per annum for men down to 4.2 weeks per annum in 2011 / 2016). The decline may be related to austerity and reduced funding of social care, etc. We will look at two scenarios. First that HH size continues to decline to 2032, to 2.17 persons. Second, that HH size stagnates at 2.23 persons.
How will population develop? Let’s look at actual overall trends for the recent decade and for the two latest census periods. The 2011 – 2016 growth rate we found was 280 persons per annum. The (reconciled) 2001 data puts population at ~316,000 and at 2016 as 321,200. The longer period growth rate was 347 persons per annum. We see that population growth has decelerated in recent years reflecting poor economic conditions.
Given that the government expects somewhat lower economic growth for some years related to Brexit we take the lower growth rate. Population growth 2014 to 2032 would then be 18 x 280 = 5040 persons. Population in 2014 was 321,200. Population in 2032 would be 326,240. Using stagnated HH size at 2.23 then gives us 146,296 HH versus 142,400 in 2014. Increase in HH is 3895 in total or 216.4 houses per annum. If HH size drops to 2.17, which seems unlikely, this would give us a need for 441 houses per annum. Note that the mean of 329 compares well with the actual historic delivered rate of 383 reported in the Wirral SHMA Study.
These results follow from a simple model based on actual trends and experienced trend ranges in Wirral population and households plus a few assumptions about general economic prospects over the next decade. Accuracy cannot be claimed but the housing requirement is only 27% to (an unlikely) 55% of the official target. The official housing forecast models are far more detailed, dissecting out local demographics and then adding back in council growth policies, net migration, job growth and housing market factors. But as we saw in Figure 1 this leads us to a wide range of complex but guesswork based scenarios giving a very wide range of numerical forecasts. You might well think:
’ never mind the quality feel the width’ …but I could not possibly comment.

FIGURE 3 

Wirral Population & HH ONS Estimates 2015

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Is this perhaps unfair? Let’s take a key example from the Wirral SHMA & Housing Need Study 2016. Page 137 presents Table 8.2 which lists their key modelling assumptions for the growth forecasts. It starts with the basic population and two estimates:

‘2012 based SNPP 10,140 population growth 2014 – 2032.’
‘10 year long term Migration Scenario 66 population growth.’
‘Higher of the 2 approaches represents the population for the demographic starting point’.

Funnily enough if we take the scenarios mean we get 5103 compared with our 5040… but the low growth scenario is ignored. They use the 10,140 growth figure which it is said equates to 11,830 new houses. Various ‘uplift’ factors are then applied giving a 757 houses per annum requirement which is further ‘uplifted’ for Council growth plans, etc, giving ‘Fully Objectively Assessed Needs’ of 875 to 1233 houses per annum…higher than the ‘wicked’ government imposed 800 target of 2018.

5. Green Belt Land Requirements
The Strategic Land Availability Study is a necessary part of the preparation of the Local Plan and part of this is a Review of Green Belt land. In July 2018 Wirral Council published a map showing 50 green belt sites across Wirral said to be available for ‘release’ for housing development according to the landowners / developers. The interesting question is how does this area of land relate to the ‘official’ housing needs target which must be met by the Council i.e 12,000 new houses by 3032.
We now look at the land area involved and typical housing densities to answer this question. Using the NLS online measurement tools and 25 inch OS maps the total land area involved is ~7.6 square miles and ~4864 acres. Figure 4 shows the map of intended GB ‘release’ sites. The square of 3 miles X 3 miles shows the rearranged green belt sites which fill it well. Imagine a new urban township 3 miles X 3 miles square on the Wirral.

FIGURE 4 Intended Green Belt Council Release Sites

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The DCLG Land Use Statistics (England) 2010 provides actual housing densities by region. For the NW densities have ranged from 22 to 49 dwellings per hectare in recent years with a tendency to increase. The mean is 36 dph or 14.57 dwellings per acre. At this density the GB release plan land could support 14.57 x 4864 = 70,870 houses.
The government / council required total is 12,000 houses. So the GB land proposed for development ‘release’ by the council is 5.9 X more than the land needed to meet the target (assuming that no houses are built on brown field land).Only 17% of that Green Belt land would be required. Readers might consider this a little strange. Is the Wirral Council incapable of doing a few simple calculations to support their housing planning strategy? Surely they employ professional planning officers at considerable expense to us?
I suggest that the GB land overkill is part of a deliberate political strategy. First, announce that a huge area of Green Belt is needed to meet the ‘government’s housing targets’. Second, encourage residents to ‘complain’ through local Labour Party organised resident meetings and a hysterical press campaign: those to blame being the Conservative government for trying to ‘subvert local democracy’ and Peel Holdings for ‘land banking’. Third, hold the official Consultation on the plans in September 2018.
Fourth, in December 2018 after the review, announce that the Council has listened carefully to residents’ concerns and thanks to the Council’s heroic efforts 83% of the GB sites on the release plan have been ‘saved’. Fifth, win more votes in the next election.
However the above calculations start from the official housing needs estimate of 800 x15 = 12,000.We have shown that this is a very unrealistic target taking into account actual Wirral history, population numbers, household numbers, lack of economic growth prospects and the strong slowdown in life expectancy improvement. A more likely housing requirement over the plan period is 216.4 x 18 = 3895. If we use this number the fraction of GB land on the ‘release’ plan actually required would be 5.4%.
Note also that the Council has now identified 91 brown field sites where 2,400 houses could be built. But this is 62% of our estimated 3895 requirement. If these sites are used the Green Belt needed would be just 2% of the proposed Council ‘release’ plan.
Nevertheless somebody is going to draw the short straw and lose their adjacent Green Belt. After all there is much more money to be made by not bothering with the large area of Brown Belt land available on Wirral which costs more to develop. The developers make more profit from Green Belt. The Council gets higher rates from the Green Belt luxury houses they build. Very few ‘affordable’ houses will be built because of the ‘viability’ test loophole. Surely Wirral residents are being badly misled and treated with contempt by those who were elected to protect their interests… to the benefit of land speculators and the politicians. Politicians come and go but once Green Belt land is gone it is gone forever.
Enough is enough. It is time to fight back.
Professor (retired) D P Gregg: Background in mathematical modelling, statistics and operational research. For fifteen years served as visiting professor with a leading northern university. Collaborated with several universities in Europe and the USA and led EU funded industrial projects with other large companies. For several decades led a forecasting research / decision science, internal consultancy group for a large, well known multinational company. Advised senior management and the board on tactical and strategic business planning.