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21/09/2015

‘Slow planning system’ hinders bids to tackle housing shortage, says report

Words: Laura Edgar
Housing / iStock

46 per cent of respondents to Lloyds Bank’s ‘Building for Growth’ (PDF) survey say “the planning system is too slow”, with authors suggesting a range of solutions to the problem.

The report, part of the bank's research series, also found that the building industry faces a shortage of skills, while house builders can meet their affordable housing obligations but are concerned about not making a profit.

The report comprises views of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), mid-sized enterprises and larger firms. It is, says Lloyds, designed to provide a “comprehensive overview” of the issues facing the house building industry.

The outlook is generally positive, according to the report’s executive summary, but challenges do remain.

Most of the respondents to Lloyds’ survey – 87 per cent - said they were looking to increase their workforce during the next year, however, a shortage of skilled workers is causing difficulties in this area. About 24 per cent of respondents said this was the biggest challenge currently facing their business, ranking skilled candidates as their number one problem.

The survey found that 58 per cent of research respondents believe the sector does have the resources it needs to “play a role in managing the crisis”.

Although 140,000 houses were built last year, the report says this figure falls short of the target identified by the government in 2007 - 240,000.

Three-quarters of the largest firms said they felt they have the tools they need to address the shortfall, yet only 50 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively, of SME and mid-sized businesses agreed.

Additionally, 46 per cent of respondents declare that “the planning system is too slow”, citing this as a contribution to the housing shortage, while opposition to construction projects was also put forward as something preventing firms from solving the shortfall.

Speaking to The Planner, Andrew Whitaker, planning director at HBF, said this was the biggest constraint on the rate at which build rates are increased.

“It is taking far too long for applications to be processed and we have made a range of suggestions to government about how this ‘end-to-end’ process can be sped up,” he said.

Local authorities, Whitaker continued, have to abide by the responsibilities the National Planning Policy Framework gives them and they need to ensure that they have a sound local plan in place, “maintain a five-year supply of housing land, and [ensure] that their planning department has adequate capacity to process applications in a timely manner”.

A Royal Town Planning Institute spokesperson, however, said planners are playing their part in solving the housing crisis, but there is “no magic solution” and to blame the planning system “is all too easy and wrong”.

“We need to tackle this challenge on multiple fronts through planning and non-planning means, addressing issues like funding, taxation policy, skills, public engagement, and infrastructure as well as where and what we build,” the spokesperson explained.

Regarding affordable housing obligations, only 30 per cent expressed confidence that they could meet them with no problem, while 40 per cent said they could meet them, but are concerned about profit margin.

In response to a question asking for one change that will alleviate the housing shortage, replies included:

  • 23 per cent want greater local authority support to promote and fund building projects;

  • 23 per cent want additional government support; and

  • 15 per cent would like to see planning changes;

The report also considers the cost of housing, the environment and zero-carbon standards and economic and political factors.

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