October 2012

The Echo published the following article yesterday. It appears that the councilors have scrapped the resolutions Leglag and Save The Countryside fought so hard to get the councils to accept. This includes investigating the evidence for lower housing figures provides the LegLag and STC. It shows that the councils choose to take absolutely no notice of local people in the JCS consultation, the overwhelming majority who voted to protect the greenbelt and build fewer houses. I’m saddened, gutted and ashamed by my local politicians. Any faith I had in them has been lost. They do not represent us.

Housing crisis must be solved by working together, councillors told

by The Gloucester Echo, Monday 15 Oct 2012

COUNCILLORS have been warned that there is ‘no Plan B’ to working with neighbouring councils in solving the area’s housing crisis.

Members of Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) voted in favour of going back on controversial decisions they made just a month ago.

Gloucester and Tewkesbury Councils had suggested the future of the Joint Core Strategy (JCS) document, which will state where and how many houses should be built, was in doubt after Cheltenham passed recommendations in September that had not been agreed with the two partner authorities.

But CBC chief executive Andrew North told a members’ meeting at the Municipal Offices tody: “I think the truth of the matter is that there isn’t a Plan B as such.”

After a lengthy debate, council members agreed to withdraw the offending resolutions in an effort to ensure the future of the JCS.

In the past week all councils within the Joint Core Strategy area, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury have met to decide the required housing need for the area. Out of 739 responses to the JCS questionnaire 78% of the public voted for option A for 16,200 homes and that brownfield is developed before greenfield and that urban regeneration comes first. We expected the councils preference to be for option B to build 33,200 homes despite the lack of public support.

There was a very length debate at Cheltenham council, where Save The Countryside campaigners were out in force with strong evidence to back up their arguments. The population within the JCS area is estimated to rise by 44,700 over the next 20 years, it actually likely to be lower since this ignores the fact that we are seeing much less economic growth due to the recessions (less job migration). The projection of 33,200 assumes a low occupancy rate of 1.2, whereas the “2011 census” and “Local Tax and Labour Force Survey” both give household occupancy of 2.4! Naturally this more realistic occupancy requires far fewer homes to be built given the population increase. STC and Leglag are stunned that this ridiculously low occupancy rate can be counted as an evidence when there is absolutely no evidence for it!

During the debate it became increasingly clear to STC campaigners how shaky the evidence was for the housing estimates. The JCS team seem to believe you can invent some assumptions, pass them through a faulty mathematical and claim to have conjured up some solid evidence. We expect better from our representatives. Importantly the Cheltenham councillors are sympathetic to our arguments but face strong resistance from the officers. At the end of the day councillors voted for a housing figure of 28,500 homes but due to strong arguments from STC and Leglag they add an option to further investigate evidence for the 16,200 figure. There is hope that they will be convinced by the solid evidence for this lower figure.

While this appears to be a small chink in the armour of Cheltenham Borough Council even this slight ‘weakness’ has been pounced upon by Gloucester and Tewkesbury council and have suggested that unless CBC goes with the higher housing figures the whole JCS might collapse. This is very unfortunate and more pressure needs to be put on these other councils. Tewkesbury members even said the figure might need to be as high as 43,220! , however there are different voices and some councillors at Tewkesbury said that more work need to be done before housing need for the three councils could be established and that that work needs to be substantial.

Several people have mentioned how the fiasco is the awarding of the West Coast mainline contract has echo with the JCS process. In both cases, flawed statistics are put up to support the wrong outcome and costs in the long term of getting this decision wrong and likely to be very high.

Margaret White (Leglag)  discovered these figures, showing generally that councils have in the region  have all adopted far lower housing requirements than those given in the now scrapped Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs). Not so in Cheltenham yet.

Bristol adopted – housing numbers 32,800 (RSS 36,500)
North Somerset adopted – housing numbers 14,000 (RSS 26,750)
South Gloucestershire – housing numbers 26,400 (RSS 32,800) –Hearings happening currently.
Bath & North East Somerset – housing numbers 11,000 (RSS figure 21,300 waiting to hear further from the Inspector.