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Housebuilders say planning rules are becoming harder

Submitted by on December 15, 2012 – 8:01 pm


According to a recent survey the government reform of the planning system is failing the  residential sector.

A survey conducted for Building’s 2013 Housing and Planning White Paper, of more than 230 housebuilders, found that almost half of all housebuilders – 49% – think achieving planning permission has become more difficult in the last two years, compared with just 10% that believe it has got easier, and over a third that said it was unchanged.

In addition, just a fraction of the housebuilders surveyed – 6% – said local authorities have become more open to development since the publication of the government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which placed a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” at the heart of the planning system.

More than twice that number, 15%, say councils are now less open to development, with a majority of 56% saying it has made no difference. The findings come despite the fact chancellor George Osborne said in 2011 that the government’s planning reforms were “key to our economic recovery”.

The findings of the internet-based poll of housebuilders, conducted in November in conjunction with the National House Building Council, were also backed by a qualitative survey of 16 planning authority heads undertaken for the white paper. The majority said the publication of the NPPF hadn’t changed their attitude to development and that a financial incentive designed to make them more positive to housebuilding – the New Homes Bonus – had no impact on their decision-making.

In addition, the majority of housebuilders that expressed a preference said that councils were being inflexible on re-negotiating section 106 agreements that cause problems with site viability, despite repeated attempts by the government to encourage councils to strike deals that allow schemes to go ahead.

The government has attempted to boost housing output through publication of a housing strategy in November 2011, and the unveiling of further steps to reform planning and underwrite development, in September this year.

Nevertheless, housing starts in England in the first nine months of 2012 are running 15% below the first nine months of 2011.

John Stewart, director of economic affairs at the Home Builders Federation, said: “The survey emphasises the challenge developers face to take sites forward and the constraints on supply. While, in part, this could be put down to the new system bedding in, what is imperative is that central and local government ensure the system is ready to respond with more permissioned land when the economy improves.”

A spokesperson for the communities department said the planning reforms would create a “simpler and more effective planning system that enables more good quality sustainable development to get underway without delay”. He said: “The new Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently going through Parliament, will help the country compete on the global stage by reducing confusing and overlapping red tape that delays development and discourages business investment, new infrastructure and job creation.”

The news came as the RICS released forecasts for the housing market for 2013. It said house prices will increase by 2% next year, the cost of renting a home will go up 4% and the number of transactions will rise just over 3% from 930,000 this year to 960,000.