How @ONS & @MCHLG Mistakes Pandering to Guildford Nimbys caused the #OANinshambles, Oxford and Cambridge Need Car Crash and Near Collapse of Plan Making in England

Guildford Dragon  
Julian Lyon, chairman of The Guildford Society said: “It is hard to see how any local authority can plan for “need” when numbers are so variable and when consultants like GL Hearn [who produced Guildford’s OAN] have ignored requests to ‘show your workings’ so we can properly identify any flaws or differences of assumptions behind the analysis of the data available at the time.
As a result of the population analysis GSoc did for its 2014 response to the Local Plan consultation, and with the help of Rt. Hon. Anne Milton MP, the director general of ONS conceded then that there were flaws in their calculations but went nowhere near far enough in their next adjustment.
“We have explained in our paper why we think the government’s statisticians are working from flawed data in university towns, and we, along with Guildford Residents Associations (GRA) who have done (and commissioned) more work on this matter, have continuously been vindicated by the reductions in official population forecasts and statements of need.
Amanda Mullarkey, chair of the Guildford Residents’ Association added:
“Since the examination hearings, there have been two sets of data from the ONS suggesting population growth in Guildford, a crucial factor in estimating housing need, has been overestimated.
“GRA believes there is now an overwhelming case for re-opening the examination to take account of the latest official household figures.  We trust that the inspector will do this to enable a fair process and to make sure the Local Plan is sound.
“The changes in the figures are not random. They are the result of corrections to systematic errors in the way household growth has been estimated in Guildford.  The previous method overestimated need by under-recording students leaving at the end of their studies.  The ONS has agreed with the analysis undertaken by GRA’s expert, Neil MacDonald, which identified how student figures were distorting and exaggerating overall need.
There it is mystery solved.  Of course this is just another form of household suppression.  Lets take the case of a graduating PHD in bioscience in Oxford who wants to take a job in science vale – but cant afford the housing costs, so they take a job teaching biology in a comprehensive in Bradford.  Where is the ‘need’ if jobs led – as it should be in productivity booting clusters and corridors, it should be recorded in Oxford. This is a case of the ONS being overly purist and handing the job over to the MHCLG, who not employing anyone with the demographic, urban economics or statistical skills anymore didn’t understand the problem, they thought could be solved with a simple spreadsheet weight ‘global fudge factor’ without understanding  that IF OAN IS NEAR ZERO OR NEGATIVE THEIR IS NOTHING TO WEIGHT – THE FORMULA DOESN’T WORK. Its not like they weren’t warned on this.  Endless posts on this website developing an alternative Method for OAN (MOAN) method rightly said the demographically correct way was to adjust the demographic baseline and not apply an ad hoc post hoc ‘fudge’ as this would create some bizarre regional patterns (sadly OAN was a term I invented – it shall be on my tombstone I think).  Yet ministers insisted it was sound.  One wonders if they simply didn’t understand the point in causally dismissing the many technical representation to the consultation.  There now needs to be a fundamental revaluation at the Ministry on how they handled and will handle this in the future. I even emailed a very senior ministry figure 5 or 6 months ago saying a slow car crash problem was coming re Oxford and Cambridge in particular and asking they liaise with ONS about methodology, though then I hadn’t got to the bottom what the problem was.  Then the ONS had said there was a problem (in the latest 2016 based  population estimates)  with graduate migration estimates, but hadn’t said what the problem was and stated they hadn’t yet got a good method for fixing it.  Now it is clear, they did adjust the method in a purist way, which if still in the Ministry with an economist/geographer in charge of policy numbers (like the late Alan Holmans) the problem would have been picked up. AND THE HH PROJECTIONS AND OAN TARGETS WOULD HAVE BEEN RELEASED ON THE SAME DAY WITH NUMEROUS FOOTNOTES ON THE BASIS OF ALL ADJUSTMENTS AND CORRECTIONs. Instead their was a bizarre week long gap, which in itself caused near paralysis in plan making the length and breadth of England as many authorities, ignoring the ONS health warnings, (though a health warning is a sign of sickness). This was the first set of forecasts handed over for ONS release rather than DCLG, the wiley Alan Holmans knew it needed a political and policy sense check before release.  The naive MCHLG didn’t, and now in a panic last week as the #OANimshambles unfolded as plan making went backwards across the nation bid on the day last Friday the hotly expected SOAN figures were due to be release the MCHLG noticed & didn’t release them (perhaps realizing now their crude spreadsheets didn’t work) – so they threw the hot potato back to the OAN, who don’t have any policy remit.  Highly inappropriate. This clearly is a matter for the Statistics Regulator  (added note this was planned by 3rd December 2018 according to deep footnotes) .  But with the panic they realised they couldn’t release SOAN on Friday they had to wait till 3rd Dec.) After Fridays panic we wont now have to wait at last three months into 2019 until consultation on a new method and SOAN is concluded.   This is a Grocho Marxist approach by the ministry ‘If you don’t like my projections, we have others’ And now what will happen till at least March 2019, nothing, no one in their right mind will consult or submit, a local plan or JSP.  All EIPs will be frozen, some will have to reopen.  Its a disaster as great as Pickles abandoning  housing targets without a replacement, and Boles weighing in on Green Belt after a panicky phone call from Cameron after he listened to Chrispin Blunt on Today.  Both set back plan making by 1-2 years, as will this potentially as momentum is lost, that at least 4 years out of the last eight (more if you include the last administration and the introduction of a badly thought through sequential approach to housing) – in all such cases they were warned. With planning ministers having the lifespan of Spinal trap drummers we wonder why the government top domestic policy issue is struggling and why nonothings such as Boris and Mogg think its the planners are the problem. No the problem is much more systematic, the ministry has never has a strategy as to who does what and why in planning.  Localism, centralism, naughty step intervention and rhetoric about localism (now calling itself neo-localism implying (correctly) that the localist agenda failed), its played day to day and from crisis to crisis, usually shifting by whether the minister in question is a fan of Ann Rand,  Edward Goldsmith, Hayek, or Mr Bean. What happens next – I guess some typical letter from the Ministry ‘clarifying’ and seeking to stop panic.   But the MCHLG  has a fine choice in terms of what OAN we should be working on – out of date, discredited or not yet invented.  It would be hard as a result to ‘freeze’ the old numbers reversing the old numbers and SHMAS based on them, but it is by far the last worst choice even if it means backing down on the rapid roll out of SOAN the Ministry announced in the NPPG and NPPG last month. In the mean time mass gardening leave for all policy planners I think, or perhaps designing garden communities, instead, much more fun and positive.

Wirral Leader thinks ONS is trying to Protect Wirral Green Belt – Is he Council Leader who knows least about planning in England ?


In his letter to Mr Brokenshire, Cllr Phil Davies wrote that the housing target was incorrect and called for acceptance that the ONS figures more accurately reflect the real housing needs for Wirral.

He said: “We always believed these numbers were wrong and pledged to fight them on behalf of Wirral residents.

“Labour Councillors told us residents from Pensby to Prenton and Bebington to Bromborough were ‘up in arms’ about these house building numbers and the threat they presented to Wirral’s Green Belt – I’m delighted the Office for national Statistics has also taken that opinion.

“We now need the secretary of state to accept his national formula was – as one local paper called it – “a cock up” – and confirm he too accepts the ONS number as the basis for our Local Plan”

Kind of speechless.  The HH projections are objectives nothing to do with what ONS thinks about Green Belt in Wirral.  I agree though the formula was a cock up – mainly because it assumes people will move en mass from places like Wirral to places like Greenwich, so Wirral’s number shroud be much higher.  But that has nothing to do with the household projections!  The formula was of course based on ONS figures, so if the ONS cocked up why trust them as guardians of the Wirral Green Belt?  This is intellectual incoherence and thinking (or very little thinking) out load.

Truly does he know about planning or is he just a bruiser trying to pick a fight irrespective of the  facts or his officer’s briefings  He might also read the health warning in the numbers which explains why they arn’t a measure of need but a carrying forward of past (bad) trends which need to change and be changed by council leaders with courage to tackle the housing crisis ( trends including Nimby council leaders like him preventing enough homes being built by maintaining too tight a Green Belt and preventing his constituents getting onto the housing ladder – at wild variance with his own party’s policy on Green Belt and house building.)

As the ONS says

Now Mr Davis which of the below applies:

  1. you havent read the above provisos
  2. you have read them but didn’t understand them
  3. you have read them but think the ONS is wrong – in which case yoou think people coach surfing and living in overcrowded homes dont deserve one if they live near Nimbys who complain to you.  But you do of course think the ONS are right in other regards including threat they have a mandate to distort statistics to save the Wirral Green Belt (BTW they dont)

It has to be one of the above Mr Davis, but I very much doubt you understand this, you would much rather pick a fight.

Much like when you vomited out every Green Belt site however stupid in a consultation without any assessment or strategy or recommendation for the cycnical reason it would cause public outrage – vomiting is very unpleasant to see. No leadership or positivity here to get a plan through with the best (or least worst).  Again you would rather biovate and issue press releases than roll up you sleeves and get on with it.  You are the only leader in the whole of the UK picking a fight on your local plan now, is everyone else right and you are wrong?  Why are Wirral such poor performers on the local plan and haven’t moved forward in the long time, eternity you have been leader. 
Try looking in the mirror.  You fight miltants and hard leftists in Wirral but in your media palybook – its straight Dereck Hatton, picking a fight for fights sake you cant win  

The #OANnishambles Meeting @MHCLG

Even Malcolm Tucker would be lost for swear words at @mhclg #OAN omnishambles that evolved on Friday last The very day we were to get the new SOAN numbers the whole planning world was waiting for we get an 11th hour panic as the numbers the ministry had had for months and said were the basis for a ‘sound’ method, fell parts after a few blogs analysis conducted in 24hrs. So  an ‘irritated‘ groups of Council leaders from #Southanywheredistrictcouncils come to visit the minister Q where does #CaMKOX 1M Target come from? A You own SHMAs based on ONS household projections etc. A But they are out of date and the new ones say Oxford doesn’t need to grow by a single house. A ah they are dodgy we will have new ones next year – thing have changed, people cant afford to form households -manifesto commitment you know. Q But you’ve just told us to put forward plans for Garden Communities to hit the 1 million target! Which you say know is old, whilst the new one is dodgy. A Its an ambition – based on what we had at that time Q So whats our choice now base our plan on old, dodgy or non existent till next year numbers? A All three as long as its the highest, and as long as its at least 1 million, Phillip Hammond likes round numbers – every corridor has to have 1 million Q But the 1 million includes overspill from London im not having that A It might be higher- just got to get London elections done in 2020 before we can give a realistic number on what it might be Q So why don’t we just scrap our local plan and JSP and consult on it in 2020 when we find out what the fuck is going on. A Oh if you do that you’ll be on the Local Plan Naughty step you cant delay Q And what will you base the plan on when you write it – you just told me to make a high number up.  If you impose one ill JR you all the way and the growth deal is off, you playing with us, your not serious. Anchorman chips in – perhaps Minister I suggest we send every council a letter of clarification. Minister – clarifying the numbers you mean? Leader – ah yes what to use, old, dodgy or non existent? Minister – thank you for your time Cllr I have another meeting. Leader – I’ve got to try and explain this to my constituents – ill just refer them to your press office till you sought this mess out. You cant get a single house built without our help matey, and if you fail on this the PM will make you Governor of South Georgia. Anchorman walks out quickly- trying not to be tempted to walk like a penguin.