New home planning ‘permissions’ up – but system remains a constraint

The number of planning permissions granted for new homes in Q3 of this year remains high, HBF and Glenigan’s latest Housing Pipeline report shows, demonstrating the house building industry’s commitment to continuing to increase housing supply.

Permissions for 76,242 homes were granted in England between July and September, with the total number for the 12 months to September reaching 289,011, the highest since the survey began in 2006. However, the number of actual sites these permissions are on dropped, indicating Local Authorities are granting permission for an increasing number of large strategic sites as opposed to the mix of size and type of site needed to deliver more homes.

This is an encouraging headline figure but few of those recently permitted will yet be buildable. Permissions are recorded once one of the ‘conditions’ attached to them by the Local Authority is satisfied- or ‘discharged’. Many will have dozens of ‘pre commencement’ conditions attached and so builders will not legally be entitled to commence construction until they are all discharged- a process which could take some months and is dependent on the ability and capacity of the authority to provide this service.

HBF has welcomed the Government’s efforts through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to introduce a new process for agreeing pre-commencement conditions but has urged ministers to go further in limiting the number of conditions and preventing authorities from imposing spurious conditions that could be dealt with later in the construction process so that builders can get onto sites with a ‘permission’ more quickly. Many conditions – such as the Local Authority needing to approve a final children’s play area design – should not be holding up building work and could be agreed once work is underway through the imposition of a ‘pre-occupation’ condition. Information collected by HBF shows how authorities are holding up construction with demands for scale drawings of the placement of picnic tables and refuse bins in children’s play areas and detailed statements on the ‘engagement and recruitment of local artists’ to provide public art on the new estate (Please click here to view)

HBF has also proposed that a range of site sizes and types are allocated by local authorities. Councils should not rely on one large site to meet their local housing needs as they inevitable take longer to build as they will likely have greater infrastructure requirements.

Whilst housing supply is up 52% in the past three years we are still not delivering enough homes to adequately cater for our population and the planning system remains one of the major constraints on supply. Speeding up the rate at which builders get onto sites, and ensuring Local Authorities abide by their responsibilities and allocate sites that meet their local housing needs are key requirements if the house building industry is to deliver much needed housing.

Speaking today, Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, said;

“The house building industry is committed to building more homes but can only do so if it has the land on which to build them. It is encouraging that so many headline planning permissions are being granted but we simply have to find a way to unblock the system and reduce the time it takes to get a permission to the stage where builders can actually start building. Construction work shouldn’t be held up by council officers getting round to approving designs for landscaping, playgrounds or ensuring developers are liaising with community artists. These could be agreed whilst infrastructure work gets started. Our housing crisis is too serious a threat to our future for everyone not to be pulling in the same direction.

“House builders are keen to increase output further but all parties need to work together if we are going to solve our housing shortage”

Allan Wilén, economics director, head of business market intelligence at Glenigan said:

“The 10 per cent rise in the number of units approved during the third quarter was driven by an increase in private housing.  The rise demonstrates that housebuilders remain confident about market prospects for the year ahead with a firm development pipeline ensuring that housebuilders are well placed to meet demand.”