Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Changing Role of Household Projections: Exploring Policy Conflict and Ambiguity in Planning for Housing

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Changing Role of Household Projections: Exploring Policy Conflict and Ambiguity in Planning for Housing

Article excerpt

Introduction

Planning plays an important role in 'governing growth', particularly for housing (Murdoch and Abram, 2002). The role of household change and planning in shaping additional housing supply remain central concerns in the UK, continental Europe, the US and Australasia (Barker, 2014; Bramley, 2013; Gurran and Phibbs, 2013; Schwartz, 2015). In these countries, central governments use established tools for ensuring that planning systems support housing delivery. In the United Kingdom, planning for housing has been characterised by top-down and centralised direction, contrasting with wider decentralising and deregulatory trends in planning (Murdoch and Abram, 2002; Cowell and Murdoch, 1999). The UK's planning systems' focus on national housing numbers and 'targets' has been particularly criticised (Meen and Andrew, 2008; Whitehead, 1997).

Population and household projections are a critical tool in holding together this framework of housing governance (Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones, 2007; Holmans, 2012). The role of projections in planning for housing is contested, especially in England (Holmans, 2013; Rees et al., 2015; McDonald and Williams, 2014). Critiques of the use of household projections in planning - trend-based population projections derived from demographic assumptions to indicate future household formation - paint a complex picture. Some accounts highlight the constraining function of household projections in a hierarchical system of planning for housing where regional and local stakeholders have 'very little scope for negotiation around the overall numbers' (Murdoch and Abram, 2002, 5). This view has persisted despite the recognised 'crudeness' of national household projections (Gallent, 2007; Golland and Gillen, 2004). Government has argued that household projections are 'guidelines' rather than 'targets', yet stakeholders report that the scope to challenge these 'guidelines' is limited (Cowell and Murdoch, 1999). There are contrasting accounts that argue population and household projections are not so restrictive. Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones (2007, 152), for example, state that projections 'lose much of their initial potency as they become just one factor among many'. Planning systems in England and Wales have arguably become less top-down in character over the past decade (Allmendinger and Haughton, 2011). The machinery tying planners into a layered, hierarchical system of planning for housing has recently been dismantled, reinforcing a trend towards the increasing localisation of planning for housing (Vigar et al., 2000; Valler et al., 2012; Gallent et al., 2013).

This article explores the role household projections play within localised and market-driven governance frameworks (Haughton and Allmendinger, 2014), and an environment increasingly characterised by high levels of ambiguity. There are several important sources of ambiguity, including the impact of economic recession on the role household projections play in identifying housing land requirements. We argue firstly that in an increasingly localised system, where government policy promotes local interpretation of household projections, there remains considerable uncertainty about the ability of local planning authorities to depart from household projections interpreted as 'housing targets'. Secondly, the article argues that this uncertainty is compounded by the effect of financial crisis and economic recession on household projections, creating a high policy conflict environment. In doing so, we contribute to the policy implementation literature by exploring how change in policy ambiguity can result from a change in, and stakeholders' interpretation of, an externally derived referential goal.

The article introduces a conceptual framework for exploring ambiguity and conflict in policy implementation, followed by an account of changes in spatial governance focusing on the emergence of pro-market localism and political devolution (Haughton and Allmendinger, 2014). …

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