Govy has talked about how the governments aims to “achieve a fairer and more equitable distribution of need across the country“, by which of course he means some adjustment in the standard method to achieve more housing in ‘levelling up’ areas and less in Blue Walls ‘overheating’ seats in the South East.
As we have talked many times in this blog a shift towards a Jobs led approach, and away from a trend based housing led approach is a good thing. Planning always starts with planning for future economic development. The jobs you need, where areas need to grow and where you need to put the houses and infrastructure to provide them. If you merely plan to grow areas that have grown in the past you cause two problems, firstly there are limits to fast growth in some areas. A good example in Peterborough which is close to reaching the maximum limits of expansion set by the fens, its growth will have to slow down. I am very skeptical when the PM talks about overheating in some areas as that overheating has been caused by 50 years of failing to plan for housing and supporting infrastructure at the scale and locations needed. Build enough of both and their is no overheating. None the less there are limits in some places as to where infrastructure cannot be expanded without excessive cost (a good but extreme example is the Isles of Scilly where you cannot expand fresh water supply without desalination, so there is a ban on all new housing). You also see an extreme example in Beijing where they finally realised that there were diminishing returns from the economies of agglomeration – building a 10th, 11th 12th ring road etc. Previously on this blog we theorised that a cities optimum size is where the urban economies of agglomeration were not exceeded by the geometrically increasing costs of new infrastructure as a city increases in footprint. Much of the productivity puzzle in British Cities can be explained by cities other than London not achieving the urban economies and productivity gains of similarly sized European Cities because of appalling public transport networks.
The second problem is that it confines areas which have declined or grown slowly in the past to permanent second division status. Here as we have stressed many times on here the NPPF and NPPG is woolly on when where and how jobs led housing growth can be justified, leading to some appalling inconsistencies by PINS at local plan examinations (such as between Darlington – deemed not a growth area, and Doncaster- which was .
When you move towards a jobs led approach however you are in the realm of strategic, regional and national planning whether you like it or not. The assumptions you make in an algorithm are in effect, whether you like it or not, regional and national planning policy making.
In a local plan formed around a functional market area it is fairly easy, you can shift growth to where you need it. At a strategic or wider regional level you can do also. For example the former South East plan suppressed growth West of London and added extra numbers in the Thames Gateway, but the infrastructure plan to unlock that growth never came. The assumption being presumably that over time as jobs grew in one area and housing was constrained to less than need in another there would be internal migration.
The key factor here that this is very long term. It is and can never be a ‘quick fix’ to the ‘Amersham Effect’ of trying to suppress number in the Blue Wall. Also over time the numbers really add up, take West Midlands for example where the official LEP economic growth forecasts imply a new city the size of Milton Keynes over 30 years to meet them. There has been of course debates since the second world war about whether growth in Brum should be constrained or accommodated, with one recent author for the Policy Exchange claiming Brums population should double by 2040. The bare minimum a SoS has to decide is which areas are growth areas and which are constraint areas. Take Oxford and Cambridge for example where 20 years of constraint policy after the war were a disaster in setting back the UKs competitive advantage in research based fields.
Lets take a hyopthetical model where standard method numbers were jobs led in some levelling up areas (which will include some coastal areas in the South, East and South East) and the numbers were pro-rata reduced in others.) Lets keep international migration levels fixed or even for the sake of the model assumed low or zero. Then with the job growth area and a broadly fixed population there has to be net internal migration sufficient to match the job growth AND counter existing net internal outmigration trends. Lets then look at job growth trends in the areas at the edge of cities in the Midlands and North most in need of levelling up. These have mostly been in the logistics sector. Note the recent SoS raft of decisions releasing land in the Green Belt in the North West for Big Shed led development. Some were PDL (former coalmines) in the Green Belt. Try finding a site for a big shed logistics park outside the Green Belt within an existing urban footprint anywhere in England. Though there has been growth in some sectors such as banking and insurance (such as Leeds and Sheffield (where I live) this has typically been London firms shifting lower paid back office jobs. Similarly service sector job growth in city centres in the north, such as selling bubble tea to students are universally low paid.
So the message for children of the middle classes in Amersham, Fleet etc. is simple, move north and earn far less or stay south and live with your parents forever.
In the past these choices were masked as EU migration filled the low paid jobs, now the rapidly downwardly mobile middle classes are supposed to fill them, much like the genteel poverty enjoyed by the children of the former governing classes of empire in England much of the early and mid 20th Century. The PMs own daughter (who works as a waitress) is the classic example.