Oxfordshire Housing Growth Plan Based on Fictional Figures

Hulton Park

3rd July 2018

New population estimates from the Office of National Statistics have highlighted the inaccuracies in Oxfordshire’s housing figures.

  • Back in 2014 the Oxfordshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) was published, dictating Oxfordshire’s housing need up to 2031. At the time CPRE Oxon disputed the figures stating they were a work of fiction designed to exaggerate the housing deficit and future need across Oxfordshire.
  • In order to justify building 100,000 houses, GL Hearn calculated a population of 838,000 by 2031. At the time of the SHMA, the official prediction from the Office for National Statistics was that Oxfordshire’s population would be 732,000 by 2031.
  • The ONS now says that the 2031 figures are actually likely to be lower than their original estimate – 713,000.  

If the assumptions in the SHMA had been correct, by 2018 one would expect that the ONS figures would have begun to align with the SHMA. However, there is actually a growing gulf between the numbers.  By 2031, the two sets of figures vary by 125,000 people. Based on an average occupancy of 2.4 people, that is equivalent to over 50,000 houses.

Why does it matter?
Based on GL Hearn’s forecasts our local councils have signed up to the Oxfordshire Growth Deal with a target to build 100,000 houses up to 2031. This high target is being used to justify the release of some of our most precious land, in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Oxford Green Belt. It also puts pressure on our rural communities: relaxing the rate of growth would increase the chances of services and infrastructure keeping pace and give communities time to absorb growth in a more gradual way.

Furthermore, Oxfordshire is now in line to get a further 300,000 houses, or 6 cities the size of Oxford, as part of the Oxford-Cambridge Growth Corridor Plan. Oxfordshire undoubtedly does not need 300,000 houses. These are not homes for people living in Oxfordshire, but part of an ambitious population expansion plan to boost economic growth. The transformation of Oxfordshire into an urban sprawl may well jeopardise our local economy.

What next?
CPRE Oxfordshire believes there is an important lesson for those now considering our Joint Statutory Spatial Plan, especially as we anticipate that an updated SHMA will be required as part of the evidence base – it will be vitally important to separate out ‘need’ from overall housing targets. The public should be made fully aware of, and consulted on, any additions to the housing targets to meet growth ambitions over and above the Objectively Assessed Need as identified by the Government’s new proposed housing methodology.  

Further reading:
The Office for National Statistics 2016 subnational population projection data: The Office for National Statistics Population Projections for Local Authorities table 2
The Strategic Housing Marketing Assessment for Oxfordshire: GL Hearn, April 2014, Oxfordshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment, Final Report