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Action called for to release more than 66,000 homes in the South-East

Words: Laura Edgar

Local authorities need new powers to speed up the delivery of their housing plans, not more red tape in the planning system, according to South East England Councils (SECC).

It has called on MPs for action to help turn the South-East’s “66,751 unused planning permissions” into homes.

In its evidence to a Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into the Local Plans Expert Group report, SEEC said the growth of unused permission is proof that that it is not the planning process that is holding back house building.

This has increased from 54,762 in 2009-10 to 66,751. SEEC said new council powers are needed to build approved new homes quickly as well as a reduction in red tape and minimising change to the planning system. It also emphasises the need for changes that will “ensure all developments play a part in contributing to infrastructure needs”.

Nicolas Heslop, SEEC chairman, said that despite councils giving more approvals to build, delivery of homes is still falling short of what is set out in their local plans.

“What is needed is a range of powers that will enable councils, working with developers and our other local partners, to respond to local circumstances and deliver homes. This includes powers to incentivise builders to deliver, and to access vital funding for infrastructure.”

The South-East saw the “biggest increase” in homes, said SEEC, with 28,360 in 2014-15. But more could be achieved by “helping councils to tackle land held back unnecessarily”.

“Discretionary powers could help local authorities incentivise builders to clear a backlog of stalled developments – for example, by charging council tax or revoking planning permissions if homes are not built quickly.”

SEEC also wants the government to recognise that excessive regulation and frequent changes to the planning system increase the administrative burden on councils and create uncertainty for developers, ultimately “detracting from delivery”.

Gareth Giles, chair of RTPI South East said: “We support the commitment of local authorities to get more homes built. The RTPI has consistently called on government to properly resource planning departments to enable them to better facilitate housing delivery and local infrastructure provision. Local authorities need to be adequately resourced in order to produce and implement local plans, particularly given the deadline in 2017. In our evidence to the inquiry we called for shorter, more proportionate and responsive local plans and a greater focus on planning collaboratively across boundaries.”

In its evidence, the RTPI maintained that local plan production has been stalled mainly because there have been too many changes in the way local housing need is assessed, driven by political and policy changes.

Read the RTPI’s response to the inquiry here (pdf).

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