6 August 2021

Planning is the barrier to housebuilding

The Local Government Association (LGA) and many others who do not build any homes, are wrong to keep feeding the narrative that the planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding. It is and for small and medium sized developers (SMEs), it has become the number one challenge to delivering homes.

Even when a policy compliant site is submitted, planning permission is not guaranteed in the statutory permission period of 13 or 16 weeks. It is therefore impossible to argue that planning is not a major barrier to housebuilding. However, organisations such as the LGA do so, using data on unbuilt planning permissions.

This narrative on the often cited ‘one million unbuilt planning permissions’ is best challenged by using BuiltPlace’s concise blog, but I will detail it below.

  •  It takes time for agreements to be achieved and often, these are not full permissions.
  • 15-20% of permissions are likely replanned.
  • The total of homes delivered are not counted and the permissions data comes from one source, which is not planning departments.
  • Up to 20% of permissions may never be delivered due to external reasons.

Leaving aside that a strong pipeline of sites is required, the 1million figure does not stack up. Yet what is more frustrating, is that local planning authorities are the ones who allocate the very sites they complain about! And the ‘call for sites’ process, which is how site allocations for the five-year land supply are decided, are often not made by builders but land promoters or landowners, which means the viability and complexity of delivery is supposed, not firm.

Yet every year, the unbuilt permissions perspective is regurgitated, without exploration of reality. So, let’s explore the reality of one of their members, Southwark Council.

Southwark has chosen to ramp up council housing but their timeframe for delivery is painfully slow. Their Priority Court development, delivering 8 social homes on brownfield, is following a 27 month timetable and the 27 homes being delivered on Linden Grove, is expected to take four and a half years.

For the 22 social housing sites reviewed in Southwark, it will take an average of three years to go from application to completion and this appears a conservative estimate, as one of those sites which was delivered, Gatebeck House, delivered nine social homes in four years.

Lichfields report, ‘Start to Finish’, which reviewed 180 sites, delivering 213k homes, also highlights the pain on planning. Sites of 50 took on average 1.4 years to go from validation to permission and ones of 300+, more than 3 years.

Recently, an NFB member sought assistance from the NFB to highlight the plight of his planning delays, which provided the required supplementary information many months ago, has been in planning for 177 days and does not have a case officer.

Yet, commentators still tell industry that planning is not a barrier!

The data doesn’t lie and industry, particularly SMEs are tired of this false narrative. Planning needs more funding and it needs reforming so it removes the politics and discretion, to focus on the complex outcomes.

The NFB and HBA is pressing this reality home and over the next few months we are stepping up our efforts to support the Governments planning reforms. Surveys will be sent, comments will be requested and we encourage all members and non-members who have something to say, to get in touch with membership services or check the website for ways to engage.

We have a chance at reform and a government who is listening, we must press home our advantage.

Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Housing and Planning Policy