For the first time, at a click of a button, and free of charge, anyone will be able to find out how their area has grown to what it is today and what the official projections say about how it might develop in the future.
The tool, called "What Households Where?", has been produced for a group of leading housing and planning bodies working together as the Local Housing Requirements Assessment Working Group (LHRAWG1). It is available free from http://www.howmanyhomes.org. The LHRAWG came together last year in response to a call from practitioners for practical support in assessing how many homes were needed in their areas in the context of the new housing and planning framework.
"What Households Where?" provides easy access to ONS and DCLG statistics and projections. The users select their area from a drop down list and the tool creates graphs and tables which provide answers to questions like, "What role has migration played in changes to our community?", "Are there likely to be more or fewer families in the future?" and "How many older people are we likely to need to plan for?" These are crucial questions in planning for housing. The tool will enable everyone with an interest in the number and type of homes that should be planned for in an area to access the basic facts as a starting point. This will also provide a context for the consideration of local issues and informed debate.
"What Households Where?" is fully functional and is being published as a draft to enable feedback on its usability. The second stage will be to publish, early in the autumn to include
Key comments from sector stakeholders:
"Decisions on the number and type of new homes needed in local areas will be among the most crucial that local authorities have to make.
"This tool will help make it easier for councils and residents to access key data on issues like population growth which will form the foundation of robust evidence-based local plans that shape how towns, cities and villages grow over the coming years, while providing a safeguard against unsuitable development.
"We want as many people as possible to get involved in making the decisions that shape the future of their local areas. By making the key information that informs this debate available to everyone, this tool will help councils' efforts to involve more people in the planning process."
"In a time of tight budgets it is important we all make best use of existing resources. The technical experts behind this site have done an excellent job at turning huge and mostly free official datasets into something that is user friendly. It can't make assumptions for you, but will provide a basis for all those involved in planning for housing to consider different scenarios and the implications that might have for housing in their area. We hope local planning and housing professionals will give it a go and help the Group improve a good prototype."
"The move to a more localist housing and planning system means it is more important than ever that local authorities and communities can understand the demographic trends and pressures in their area. 'What Housing Where?' provides a practical toolkit which is easily accessible and provides a useful evidence base for both local and neighbourhood plan- making. "
"'The spreadsheet tool, and the forthcoming guide to assessing housing markets and needs will help councils, providers and local residents to ensure local plans are based on robust objective assessments of local housing markets and needs.'
'It is vital that planning decisions are taken based on clear evidence from the local area about housing need ,yet currently this data can be quite opaque and difficult to access. This new tool is in response to demand from local authorities and we hope it will start to equip them with the right information to better understand the scale and type of housing need in their area, both now and in the future.
It should also enable members of the public to act as 'armchair auditors' on how housing need in their local area is being met, making it easier for local people to get involved in planning issues and increasing the accountability of local authority performance in this area."
"It is important that when producing an evidence base for their housing requirements, local authorities have a consistent base from which to start. This model provides such a starting point and should lead to greater consistency between adjoining authorities and allow them to clearly fulfil their responsibilities not just in meeting their own housing requirements but in their duty to co-operate with their neighbours."
Research commissioned by Shelter commissioned in 2011 from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research indicated that without updating the existing national guidance there will not be the consistent approach needed across local authority areas to meet the new localist approach envisaged by the Localism Act.
1. The LHRAWG includes the Town and Country Planning Association, Shelter, Royal Town Planning Institute, Planning Officers Society, Home Builders Federation, National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing, the Local Government Association, Building and Social Housing Federation, British Property Federation, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Northern Housing Consortium.