Inadequate figures led to the construction of thousands of houses in green areas, says watchdog

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Inadequate figures led to the construction of thousands of houses in green areas, says watchdog

  • Inaccurate statistics were used to justify the construction of thousands of houses in Coventry
  • The city’s population was thought to increase by 32 percent between 2011 and 2031
  • Campaigners say it was mistakenly believed that foreign students would stay in the area

Inaccurate statistics were used to justify building thousands of homes on green belt land, a watchdog has discovered.

The Office for National Statistics had predicted that Coventry’s population would increase by 32 percent between 2011 and 2031, twice that of Birmingham, prompting the City Council to plan more than 40,000 new homes.

Many of these houses could be built on the green belted land that once formed the Ardennes forest.

It had been wrongly assumed that foreign students would stay in Coventry rather than move

But activists said the ONS mistakenly believed that foreign students from local universities would stay in the area after their studies.

They said the city’s “ vital functions, ” such as births, jobs, A&E attendees, and auto registrations, did not match the expected growth.

Yesterday, the Office for Statistics Regulation criticized the ONS for not listening to the concerns and agreed that the projections were incorrect in some areas. It ordered the RVS to report back in July with plans to fix the problem.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said Coventry City Council should review its plan and “stop all unnecessary development.”

The report said, ‘We found that in some smaller cities with a large student population, population estimates did not appear to be consistent with, and possibly higher than, local evidence suggests.

It added that the ONS “should investigate the cause and magnitude of the problem related to cities with large student populations” and ordered a report in July with plans to resolve the problem.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, right, said report was 'too little, too late' for the city's precious green belt area

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, right, said report was ‘too little, too late’ for the city’s precious green belt area

While nationwide estimates were held in high regard, “there is a risk that ONS misses the bigger picture of what informs population data and does not regularly check what it does against local insight,” it said.

Mr. Street said he was pleased that the report agreed with his concerns, but that “precious” land had already been lost.

While the great news is that we finally have black and white that the ONS has overestimated Coventry’s population growth, it has come too little too late for so much of the city’s precious green belt that has already been defrauded by developers for housing, ‘ ‘ he said.

He said Coventry City Council should review its local plan and “stop all unnecessary development in irreplaceable green areas.”

An ONS spokesperson said it welcomed the report’s acknowledgment that the methods were generally ‘fit for purpose for national figures’, but acknowledged that there was some ‘variability’ at the local level.

“We are already doing a lot of work in this area,” he said. “We continue to build on new methods, for example by examining how students leaving university are counted, and the established population and migration statistics transformation program is making increasing use of administrative data.”

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