Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Carwynisation of the Cardiff LDP

The preferred strategy for Cardiff's Local Development Plan is already
causing controversy for the scale of proposed housing developments.
However, do the numbers add up?
(Pic : BBC)

I pricked up my ears last week, when I heard that 45,000 homes were being proposed for Cardiff. This is an incredibly bold statement from Cardiff Council.

I'm not a hypocrite. Back last year I noted that Cardiff's housing shortage was threatening to undermine the Welsh economy. This housing expansion in Cardiff is good news, long overdue and wholeheartedly welcome. It's just the maths and logistics of it all that I find a little bit odd.

Carwyn's Number

"Carwynisation", summed up in this not exactly mathematical formula:
                             C = R+(LxS²)

  • C = Carwyn's Number
  • R = The "real" number. The actual number of whatever is to be created (homes, jobs etc.), rounded to the nearest hundred.
  • L = Labour factor. How influential are Labour in this on a scale of 1-10? A big positive number means "very", a lower number is required when another party is involved, but a negative number if it's the Tories.
  • S = Statement factor. How bold do you want the statement to be?

This is how you can come up with magical statements like "6,000 jobs coming to Milford Haven by Trident move", "45,000 new homes to be built in Cardiff", "First Minister/Welsh Minister/Local Council X welcomes Londis expansion in Tai Bach, creating 700 jobs", "Tory cuts to cost Wales X jobs in X industry."

Usually overpromising and underdelivering is electoral suicide, but that doesn't appear to be the case in Wales.

Homes and households – the current picture

45,000 new homes equates (based on the latest 2011 Census bulletin of 2.3 people per household) to around 103,500 individuals. For perspective, in 2001 there were approximately 56,000 households in the whole of Newport.

Not all of those homes will be 4 bedroom executive "Barratt Boxes" in leafy cul-de-sacs. You could probably include student flats in the figure and several blocks of student flats will be home to a few hundred people. Even if you include every single "dwelling" built by Cardiff since 2006 (when the LDP process began), it'll still leave a gap of thousands of homes to be filled by 2026.

For the 2011-12 financial year, 5575 new homes were built in the whole of Wales.

You're looking at building houses in Cardiff between now and 2026 at a rate (if you count a rough estimate of 12,000 of the homes as having already been built – and I'm probably being generous there, but admittedly can't prove that) of 2350 homes every single year. That's in Cardiff alone, and based on an assumption that there wouldn't be any planning or administrative delays.

There's a lot to be said for good master-planning, but this is on a scale we haven't seen in Wales before.You're not just talking about building natural extensions to the city here. You're talking, theoretically, about building the equivalent of Wales' fourth largest settlement in 14 years. All the schools, transport infrastructure, health facilities, parks & recreational facilities, utilities.... This is an undertaking so huge, it makes the original Cardiff Bay redevelopment look like a granny annex.

So either 45,000 new homes is a load of rubbish, or Cardiff is planning one of the boldest urban planning projects Wales will have seen since the end of World War II.

I'm guessing it's the former.

Are the numbers way out?

Cardiff is, by some margin, Wales' fastest growing local authority. The latest census suggests its population has grown by at least 36,000 (12%) since 2001. Unless there's something big coming down the pipeline with regard the Cardiffian economy, an increase in population by building 45,000 new homes looks to be unsustainable.

I'm not criticising this bold - and yes, you could say ambitious - outline. Cardiff certainly does need to grow while any "new economy" takes hold in the Valleys, and housing supply needs to be increased to keep house prices down and (laughably) "affordable". I just think the headline numbers coming out of this are wildly optimistic or simple wrong.

If you told me that no new homes were planned in any of the local authorities surrounding Cardiff for the next decade, with Cardiff becoming a focal point for all new residential development in SE Wales, this 45,000 figure will have been believable. But that isn't happening. We have major housing developments underway or proposed in Bridgend (Parc Derwen), Barry (Waterfront), Llanharan (Parc Llanilid) and Newport (Glan Llyn). Even then, the combined total of homes built at these places, is no more than a quarter of the number of homes Cardiff's LDP earmarks.

It emphasises my point that Cardiff's proposals are going to need to be coupled to significant, high-level strategic planning - probably to such an extent it will have needed to be led at a national level, not local.

Cardiff Council's outline proposals for the LDP call for the creation of up to 40,000 new jobs. Again, very welcome, very ambitious.  Once you take the large levels of in-commuting into Cardiff into account, a significant chunk of the people living in these new homes are going to be jobless. Even if you consider the retired, students and children, you're still looking at a lot of "economically inactive" people.

All those extra, "inactive" people will become an extra divider for GVA per capita figures. For that reason, Cardiff's headline economic statistics could be sent into the toilet by this move - even if it had sustained economic growth that outstripped the rest of Wales. This is why relatively minor screw ups like the Green Investment Bank bid matter.

We also have to remember that this is a "preferred strategy", not a final one. I suspect the number of homes has been exaggerated, so when the "real" number of new homes is released - which will be around 25,000 mark if matched to population growth trends - the Cardiff North NIMBY's will feel they'll have won some sort of victory.

I can tell them now that won't happen. The land they will be inevitably "fighting to protect" will be built on regardless. If every single proposed housing development site in the LDP is developed – greenfield and brownfield – you're still looking at a "missing" 8-10,000 homes.

Where are they going to go? Are they empty properties brought back into use? Are they counting renovated social houses as "new homes?" Or rather, do they not even exist in the first place?

Carwyn's Number works in mysterious ways.


  1. Carwynomics at its best.

  2. This is Cardiff Labour you are talking about re: preferred strategy, and being led by Russell Goodway (who described himself as the "driver" in a recent council debate) who could not care less about Carwyn Jones, as much as he hated Rhodri Morgan

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    Anon 05:27 - Carwy-nom-nom-nomics would also have been acceptable.

    Anon 15:37 - That may be true, but it's the Welsh Government driving the LDP process, and these are supposedly based off Welsh Government statistics. Though I've never had Russell Goodway as the sort of bloke who would turn down the opportunity to give Cardiff more breathing room.