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RTPI warns over online census


Plans for an online census must ensure the system will reach hard to access groups, the RTPI has warned.

Although it welcomed the “tantalising” potential to have faster and more accurate housing need projections based on online census information, the institute raised concerns about non-participation compromising the system.

These come as the government has decided to hold an online census in 2021 in England and Wales, according to cabinet minister Francis Maude’s response to the Public Administration Committee last month.

Councils’ local plans use information from the census to project housing need in each area. The RTPI has previously warned about the risk of overreliance on government household projection data, as a paper-based census becomes inaccurate over time and becomes and is subject to interpretation.

RTPI president Cath Ranson said that although the current census system was not perfect, an online census also had risks.

“Critical to the success of an online census will be the arrangements that are put in place to secure information from those without internet access or who refuse to participate online. It will need to demonstrate that returns are comparable with the 2011 census and, importantly, avoid exclusion from responding to the census introducing any bias,” she said.

“However, an online census does offer the tantalising possibility of faster, more accurate and comprehensive data to planners, which would greatly assist councils in correctly assessing housing need for local plans.

“It would also provide definitive and unambiguous information which would help local authorities cooperate on housing issues, which is currently proving difficult in some areas.”

The RTPI will be encouraging the government to ensure that the 2021 census retains and if possible improves upon existing ways to calculate commuting and internal migration information.