Survey ‘a waste of money’

INTRUSIVE, onerous and a waste of money – these are the feelings of parish councillors who have criticised a survey designed to assess Northumberland’s housing needs in coming years.

Members of East Chevington Parish Council have laid into the Northumberland County Council-commissioned document, which has been sent to around 19,000 randomly-selected households in the county, asking residents about their current and future housing requirements.

Researchers DCA have been appointed by the authority to carry out and analyse the information on its behalf, as the results need to be independently assessed.

But parish councillors are less than impressed, saying the survey asks for personal information and have demanded to know the document’s worth and financial cost – at a time when the authority is wrestling with millions of pounds of budget cuts.

Coun Paul Claridge said: “I think it’s a bit over the top. I would refuse to fill it in. It is asking people much how they earn, and that’s not right.”

Coun John Morris added: “How much is this costing the county and what relevance is it to future plans? Why do they want to know people’s income?

“It is an invasion of privacy. If anyone fills this out, then they’re crackers.”

But the authority has hit back, with a spokeswoman for the authority saying: “We are legally required as an authority to understand the housing needs within our authority and also to estimate future needs.

“Guidance states that such studies should be undertaken every five years. Our previous district surveys were coming to the end of that period and would therefore be open to challenge.

“These surveys provide robust independent evidence that support planning and housing strategies and inform our discussions with developers around affordable housing.

“It is essential that we have a current assessment in place in order to secure affordable housing where it is required, as well as bidding for what could be substantial sums of funding.

“The questionnaire is confidential. We do not see the responses and DCA have a strict confidentiality policy.

“The generalised information allows us to work with planners and developers to consider types and mix of housing-market, intermediate and affordable.

“The cost is approximately £41,000. A procurement exercise was undertaken and DCA were the successful company based on cost and quality.

“We don’t have capacity or expertise internally to undertake such a study.

“A sample survey of 19,000 households is being sent out to achieve a response rate of about 30 per cent.”