MK Half a Million – Where did That Idea Come From?

One of the few curious things in the NIC Corridor Study was its talk of MK increasing to Half a Million target population ‘in line with local aspirations’

There has as far I am aware never been such an aspiration.  The design size of the New Town was 250,000 – still not reached today when you extract the small rural population.  The South East plan implied around 320,000 by around 2030.  The submitted local plan has no specific target though on the basis of its growth it implies around 309,00 by 2026.  The MK Growth commission repeated this figure.  Although of course some of the growth will be over the border in Central Beds and Aylesbury Vale.  So roughly 320-330,000 by 2030 now seems to be the figure if you are careful to exclude development at Wilmslow and Marston Vale.

So where does the figure of 500,000 come from?  I think it is a typo and should be 400,000.  The reference to 400,000 comes from a David Lock report from MK50, a Milton Keynes Partnership project. ‘Directions and Scale of Growth for Milton Keynes‘.  Which is evidence base not approved strategy.    This mentions a figure of 400,000 based on transit based communities in all obvious directions, although this includes development in Marston Vale at Wilmslow etc. which would be hard pressed to call MK.  This study – though good – was value about density.  If you included the kind of densities Suggested in Studio 5s report for the NIC and expanded some of the growth corridors. South East of the City and towards Cranfield you might get more towards 430,000.  If you included growth at rail nodes at Castlethorpe and Cheddington possibly 450,000.  500,000 would be very hard.  You really would be up against the natural limits of the city size then and I doubt 1/2  million could be accommodated with the current strategic road network and the capacity limits of the M1.    Also repeating the 1960s grid, though there is a strong lobby for this locally, would repeat car orientated sprawl, a smaller grain grid with less collector roads is needed.   Were however as the David Lock report suggests development to leap Waddon Chase to a new community grid then to its west then you could develop a a north South Road off the proposed East West Expressway effectively forming an MK bypass and linking to the M1 South of Castlethorpe.  One of the problems with MK’s current structure is you have to drive through the centre of MK to get anywhere North South of East west from the city’s fringes.  Then you might just about to hit 500k, but the question remains why would you when locations with rail access or potential rail access exist elsewhere in the corridor. I think 450k is more realistic.

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Put Very Simply – The Flaw in the Government’s OAN Method – and How Ireland Shows Us How to Simply Fix It

We have covered OAN in great depth and very technically on this site – I fear from the recent government’s response to the consultation which battered every point aside without explanation that it was over some people heads.

So lets put it very simply. The government’s method takes a demographic baseline from ONS household projections.  It then recognises that this is too low as it does not translate from households to homes, second homes, frictional vacancies etc. are not assessed.  So it takes the figure ‘experts’ have recommended as the national need (300,000, now out of date more like 340,000) and rounds it up with a formula based on how unaffordable housing is in the area.

The problem with this is it mixes two things up.  One is the correction to the baseline (households to homes) the other is correcting for suppressed household formation where house building in the past hasn’t kept up, so reducing the demographic baseline as they are fewer existing households to spawn new ones.

This creates a problem.  Lets say unaffordability  increases everywhere but more in the south rather than north – as has happened. then under the government’s method the North would get less housing and the South more, indeed under their method  there would be a net transfer of housing from South to North.  This would be exacerbated by the governments decision to make the figures ‘backward looking’ in terms of past employment trends rather than forward looking in terms of employment potential.  This hits hard on the North.

There was a good reason for this as recommended by LPEG.  Not everywhere can have ‘above average’ employment growth.  there is a risk of double counting in terms of over ambitious LEP based projections.

Also the affordability based weighting, can have perverse effects.  For example can you justify Berks having a 30% uplift and Central Beds 100%?  Which seems down to a previous cheap area having a housing boom as it was one of the few cheaper areas within a commute of London.  Or can you really justify Oxfordshire having a reduction (which seems solely down to a low demographic baseline)?

I think the correct approach is:

Step One – Correct the demographic baseline with a proper household to homes conversion

Step Two – Correct for the suppressed household formation for the recession, but in a way that does not create a low housebuilding-low household formation feedback loop.

This compromise approach has been suggested by Savills as opposed to the huge global fudge factor in the original Nat Litch method for LPEG.  What you do is correct for the recessionary suppression of household formation but weight this element in terms of unaffordability.  What this does is normalise for this element nationally breaking the feedback loop.

This then creates a ‘corrected demographic baseline’.

Now you have to project this forward.  You could do a trend projection.  But I rather like the approach adopted in Ireland’s new NPF which uses an econometric model showing the growth potential of second tier cities, Dublin expands but second tier cities expand more.  Why not do this with the growth ambitions of Northern powerhouse etc. using Cambridge Econometrics or Oxford Economics Regional Models.

Step Three:  Project Forward using consist Regional Economic Models and balance internal migration accordingly.

This should include a feedback loop recognising that areas that bulld homes more will grown more and attract more work based in migrants.   It should also assume the gradual building out of the backlog of home over 15 years or so.

There you have it.

The problem is that it will still mean large increases in London and the South East (Green Belt) areas.  The government’s approach was to have a ‘cap’ on the proportionate increase   Which would have created a systematic underprovision of housing.  I suggest tehre should be a cap, but that shortfalls from the cap should be redistributed to all LPAs (capped and uncapped) based on a GIS based method on how unconstrained they are, with redistribution’s only occurring within commuting distance of major cities.   This ‘fund’ would not automatically go on OAN, rather LPAs under the DTC would be required to demonstrate how they would contribute to meeting it jointly.  Something that would encourage the new wave of joint statutory strategic plans.