How not to meet housing targets

December 14, 2016 / Isla MacFarlane
How not to meet housing targets

Nearly 90% of local authorities believe that the Government’s housing targets will be impossible to meet due to a lack of planning resources, according to a new joint research report from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU).

“The Government aim to build one million new homes by 2020 won’t be realised unless more SME housebuilders can enter the housing market,” Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB. “That’s why the barriers that SME house builders currently face need to be removed. We know that the availability of suitable small sites and the difficulty getting planning permission on them are two of the biggest barriers these firms face.

“In this research, both local authorities and SME builders identify under-resourcing as a key barrier to allocating more small sites and getting planning permissions in place on them. Too often small sites are dealt with entirely by inexperienced officers. There simply aren’t enough senior and experienced planners to make the system work effectively.”

The report, which is the first of its kind to draw upon the experience of both local authorities and SME house builders from right across the UK, also found that 64% of builders and 45% of local authorities see lack of planning resources as a barrier to developing more small sites.

More than half of councils deliver fewer than 40% of homes on small sites

The report came attached with the standard 10 recommendations, set out below:

  1. Local planning authorities should be required to include within their local plans a strategic consideration of the contribution that small sites can make to local housing delivery, and how they can enable this to come forward.
  2. Councils should seek to broker, where feasible, relationships between small builders and landowners.
  3. Councils should use their assets creatively, including giving consideration to the use of direct commissioning, joint ventures and deferred payment models.
  1. Councils should pool and share staff, skills and resources on a regional basis in order to be able to draw on the broadest range of skills and develop expertise in enabling small sites.
  2. Central Government should give councils the power to set and vary planning fees locally where extra revenue can be ring-fenced and good service levels guaranteed.
  3. Government should consider establishing a pilot “Small Sites Expert Task Force” to develop best practice and act as a source of expert advice on how to enable small scale development.
  4. Councils should seek to reduce complexity and uncertainty in the application process, through the use of coordinating codes, where appropriate, and through early engagement on key issues like conditions and Section 106 obligations.
  5. Councils should set up internal “Small Sites Working Groups”, and/or co-locate housing and planning teams to ensure consistency of approach across the council.
  6. The industry should produce a short ‘best practice guidance’ document for small builders on how to approach planning for small sites.
  7. Councils should improve their strategic engagement with SME house builders, including where possible by establishing developer forums, online portals or workshops for smaller builders.

“Planning departments need a cash injection and we therefore urge the Government to take on board concerns shared by both builders and councils and to allow local authorities the power to increase planning fees,” said Bery. “Most small local developers are so concerned by the level of service provided by resource-stripped planning departments, they would be happy to foot the bill, provided the raised fees are ring-fenced and result in an improved service.

“The Government deserves some credit for the priority it is now placing on house building, but unless planning departments have enough experienced planners on the ground, our housing targets will be nothing more than aspirational.”

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, LGiU, said, “There is a large untapped potential in small sites, but resource and capacity pressures in planning departments make it difficult to unlock. We need new approaches and new partnerships to build the homes we need. By working with a wider range of local builders, councils can stimulate local economic growth, while providing jobs and training for young people in the area.”

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