THE ‘myth of massive population growth’ in Coventry and Warwickshire – and the need to build houses in the Green Belt – has been ‘exploded’ by a new government report, say countryside campaigners.
The report published recently by government watchdog the Office of Statistics Regulation (OSR) followed complaints to the UK Statistics Authority last November by CPRE Warwickshire and the Coventry & Warwickshire Keep Our Greenbelt Green campaign last November.
It has called for the ONS to review its population projections on which future plans for thousands of new houses, including planning application on former green belt in Keresley, Eastern Green and King’s Hill – which falls under Warwick district – have been justified.
In a published letter to the ONS’s director general of economic statistics Jonathan Athow, OSR Director Ed Humpherson wrote: “Our review considered the population estimates and projections against the Code, independent of the specific issues raised with us concerning Coventry.
“In carrying out our research and speaking to a number of demographers, academics and representatives from local government, we found the population estimates did appear to be inconsistent with, and potentially higher than local evidence suggests in some smaller cities that had a large student population.
“While ONS acknowledged that there are limitations with data on highly mobile groups such as students, ONS did not adequately consider Coventry’s concerns and more needs to be done to investigate the root and scale of the issue associated with students and outward migration.
“You should work with areas such as Coventry and independent demographers as you develop new population estimates through the transformation programme.”
Evidence by the environmental campaigners – supported by local MPs and the West Midlands’ Metro Mayor, Andy Street – was submitted to illustrate that ONS mid-year population projections for Coventry were likely to have been ‘over-stated’.
It is these figures on which the housing needs of Coventry and Warwickshire local planning authorities had been assessed and the numbers of new homes in current Local Plans were determined.
Sir Andrew Watson, chairman of CPRE Warwickshire, said “The Statistics Regulator’s findings support our evidence and also emphasise that ONS projections affect local planning decisions and can have far-reaching consequences.
“Today, planning applications that would lead to thousands on houses being built on what was green belt around Coventry are on the verge of being granted on the basis of the flawed ONS population projections for Coventry.
“The planning authorities must now refuse the applications and review their Local Plans.”
Merle Gerling, chair of Keep Our Green Belt Green (KOGG) said: “I am really pleased with the letter from the regulator to the ONS. It says the figures are suspect and you can’t rely on them.
“Over the years we’ve had so many brush-offs and fob-offs. There is strong evidence Coventry City Council officials, councillors, local planning inspectors and the Ministry of Housing have all willingly colluded.
“The only person who comes out of this with any dignity is councillor John Mutton who said the numbers were ‘stupid’. Everyone else looked the other way when the emperor wore no clothes!
“I just hope people will do the right thing now, withdraw any applications.”