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Lancaster's Draft Local Housing Plans based on 2015 forecast of big increases in international immigration. Consultation ends tomorrow

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Lancaster Local Plan Land Allocations Map from March 2017. Click to enlarge
Lancaster Local Plan Land Allocations Map from March 2017. Click to enlarge
Author: 
Chris Satori

 

Lancaster City Council's consultation period for the Local Plan on land allocation for development ends tomorrow, Friday 24 March. The consultation documents can be found here, where you can have your say. The proposals are based largely on a 2015 report by Turley associates (download it here), which claims the area will need between 650 and 700 new dwellings a year until 2031 to meet housing need. This means almost a 25% increase in the total number of homes in the district, largely on what is now agricultural land (see orange areas on map, right). That's 14,000 new dwellings to be added to the district's current 61,000.

Turley's previous 2014 report was found to have been based on outdated Office of National Statistics (ONS) population forecasts for the area which the ONS had later revised downwards. The updated ONS figures reduced the forecast need for new homes down to 392. This indicates that a reduction in the proposed land allocation by at least one-third was more in line with actual overall need. In view of this discrepancy Turley were asked to revise their report - and came up with more arguments to support their case. 

Number of international immigrants to Lancaster expected to rise?

The 'updated' Turley report (Lancaster Independent Housing Requirements Study 2015) being used by the City Council explains that the ONS figures had dropped because international immigration to Lancaster had been slowed down by the recession.  But Turley express the belief (and it is only a belief) that international immigration is just bound to increase again. They claim that the amount of this predicted increase is uncertain, but it will likely lie somewhere between much more than now - and a lot more than now. Enough to almost double the predicted housing need. 

When Turley made these unsubstantiated claims in 2015 they couldn't foresee the possibility of Brexit. But it's 2017 now and everyone has heard the news. Pinning half of a district's housing need assessment on an unfounded speculation that the net number of international immigrants coming to settle in Lancaster will rise significantly year on year until 2031 may yet have reasons behind it, but those reasons aren't supplied in the consultation documents. Without them Turley's study is an unreliable source. 

Turley forecast 10,000s more Lancashire jobs

The future housing need, according to Turley in both reports, could also be driven by a substantial increase in the number of local jobs. They forsee that the planned Heysham Gateway and Heysham Port business development might well attract new employment opportunities, as might the proposed Lancaster University business park and a further development near Carnforth. Turley also hint at a third nuclear power station at Heysham, fracking, and new opportunities for Lancaster commuters to build new Trident submarines for BAE Systems at Barrow.

They noted that BAE Systems in Samlesbury were also expecting a huge influx of public investment leading to thousands of new jobs, according to the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The LEP is a strong lobby for the local economy to be based at the heart of a great military-industrial complex funded by bottomless public defence budgets, misunderstood foreign dictators and charmingly philanthropic global oil companies. They sell it as a giant free lunch. 

The LEP includes quite a substantial number of property developers and realtors, a business group which, coincidentally, also forms the larger part of Turley's clientele. 

Based on their own prediction of all these new Lancashire and Cumbria jobs, Turley also predict that around 900 new public sector jobs will be created to service them. This runs counter to current public sector policy.

Outward-Facing Commuter Housing

Almost all of the new planned land allocation for housing (the orange bits of the map) is focussed on the two M6 motorway junctions. Particularly the vast 'Bailrigg Garden Village', planned to swallow everything from Scotforth and Hala to the M6 J33, which the local authority is to provide with a new cross-country slip road. It is located to offer dormitory housing for outward commuters.  As the Guardian once pointed out ('Let's move to Lancaster' 2008) Lancaster has good commuter access to the UK's major cities and also to some its loveliest countryside. 

Who pays the costs?

Outward-facing commuter dormitories still need infrastructure and services. New roads, public transport routes, schools, social care facilities, etc, most of which costs fall to the local authority.  As house prices and land values rise, will those who profit most pay the costs of the infrastructure and services their projects depend on?  Who can make them?

According to the adviser at the Council's consultation roadshow, to persuade any developer to look at a brownfield site, you have to put it in with a much bigger parcel of ideally-located green land, all ready to dig. 

But who will compensate us for the loss of land that we've always used for our recreation and well-being? For surrounding us instead with more traffic and suburban sprawl? Who will demand that developers mitigate the fact that wide areas of natural habitat will be sacrificed by, at the very least, being energy-efficient, low carbon and responsible in their design and build? Certainly not Turley. 

Southern Flight 

If you own a house in the South of England, particularly in and around London, you can sell it and buy a bigger place in the North for half as much - or less. Indeed a 2016 Guardian Money report advertised Lancaster as being one of the most 'affordable' cities for this purpose. Turley don't specifically mention this. They talk about a projected need for overspill housing for people really wanting to live in South Lakeland.

As southern property prices are pushed upwards by foreign investment funds, the knock-on demand for northern property is predicted to rise, pushing local house prices higher. Local would-be buyers who struggle to afford current prices must pin their hopes on some of the land allocation being reserved for 'affordable' housing. But this part of the plan is consistently deferred, as developers always argue that they just can't break even unless they can charge the very maximum the market will bear.

New money and new blood is welcome in the local economy.  But if housing prices rise to match southern migrant pockets, local people will become even more severely disadvantaged in the local housing market. Turley reckon that we're not very entrepreneurial locally.  It's a challenge to be entrepreneurial when you're living hand to mouth to make the rent or the mortgage. Hard too to support your children in achieving their aspirations. 

Local need for affordable housing mix

Lancaster has to meet actual local housing need. The Turley report 'suggests a need for 578 affordable homes every year for the next five years to clear the backlog and meet future needs.' Then it goes on to say that housing and rents in Lancaster are 'relatively' affordable anyway compared with the rest of the UK. And that the Council being a stickler about this in the past has just gone and spoilt it for everyone. 

Get back in line with the more reliable ONS figures and that figure drops to 392 new homes a year overall. This indicates that a reduction in land allocation by at least one-third would be more in line with actual overall need. It's not Turley our planners have to satisfy. If government figures won't satisfy the government, nothing will. 

Decent affordable housing is a priority need for the local workforce to live healthily and securely and to raise their families in. Where they can make plans together and develop new resources.  Unless there is a solid committment in the Local Plans to prioritising the local need for affordable housing, this goal will be deferred indefinitely. The only way it will be delivered is by locking it into every Local Plan and making it an unbreakable condition of every housing development consent. 

We need mixed housing and mixed schooling, because to see any benefits 'trickle-down' you have to be able to connect with them. We need a sustainable plan committed to integrating and bonding any and every new suburb into the wider local communities, to engage incoming skills, innovators and resources locally. We need Local Strategic Plans that will meet Local Affordable Housing and Economic Need. Making Lancaster a 'great place to live and work' for everyone.

What we have is a Plan drafted by property developers and estate agents, based on glass beads and figures picked out of a top hat. Turley say we're not really entrepreneurial. (FYI, that's called 'negging'.) It's time to stop talking Turley and start talking turkey. 

 

 

NB To locate the revised Turley report on the City Council website, go to their consultation page. Scroll down past other links a fair old way until you see one for 'Evidence and other reports'. Click on that and then scroll down the new page for a while past a lot more links until you see one for 'Housing Studies'. Click on that and scroll again until you see 'Lancaster Independent Housing Requirements Study (Part 1)'. That's it. Or just download it here.

 

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