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Councils urged to use planning powers to press forward on housebuilding

Words: Huw Morris
Housebuilding / iStock

The body representing councils is signalling an end to polarised arguments about housing development that blames slow building rates on planning authorities or developers land banking.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says planning is no barrier to housing development, with councils approving nine out of 10 applications – amounting to permission for more than 350,000 homes.

Housebuilders currently have 423,000 homes with permission that are still unbuilt.

But it says the long-standing debate on unimplemented permissions and slow build-out rates now “needs to move beyond the binary argument of it being the ‘fault’ of local planning authorities or developers ‘hoarding land’”.

Latest LGA research calls for authorities and developers to “talk to each other” to understand what lies behind slow delivery on individual sites and nationally. Authorities should consider the range of planning powers they have to encourage speedy delivery.

“The planning system is not an isolated part of housing delivery and can only influence certain parts of the housing delivery chain, which are in turn impacted by a range of issues including the availability of finance, a lack of visibility on land ownership, and options on land,” said LGA environment, economy, housing and transport board chairman Martin Tett.

“There is also a myriad of wider economic factors which affect developer behaviours, including a lack of clarity on what will happen to housing markets post-Brexit.”

The research considers the potential for authorities to spur timely build-out  of development. This includes understanding the proper use of pre-commencement conditions, which can delay starts on site, while early agreements on design codes can help streamline applications.

Enforcement powers and local development orders are among authorities’ planning powers to “get sites moving”, while Section 106 agreements should be used to encourage developers to build out speedily and ensure that councils demonstrate a five-year supply of land.

The LGA also says the “culture of a planning department and capability of officers” are crucial where leadership “is key at the political level and at senior officer level”. This also entails “empowering officers so that they are not just ‘post boxes’ for other views but have the capacity and capability to add value”.

Image credit | IStock