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Report: Focus should be on releasing land through planning system

Words: Laura Edgar

Efforts should be focused on improving the release of land through the planning system to boost building levels, says a planning consultancy.

In its report Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP) also says the problems of land banking seem “largely illusory”.

To deliver 200,000 new homes a year, the number of homes with planning permission needs to total almost 600,000, “a 25 per cent increase on the level that the Local Government Association (LGA) claimed last year was evidence of land banking”.

Stock and Flow: Planning Permissions and Housing Output states that to hit an ambitious target of delivering 300,000 homes a year, the country needs to grow its planning permission stock to more than one million.

The planning consultancy says the debate about land banking and what can be done to speed up delivery of individual sites, “is undermined by insufficient understanding of the relationship between planning permissions and completions and of the commercial drivers of land promoters, house builders and other developers who bring forward land for housing development”.

Matthew Spry, senior director at NLP, said: “Our research shows that across the country there is no big incentive to land bank given current market trends and recognising the inherent uncertainty in the housing market over the economic cycle.

“While a snapshot in time shows the number of units with permission is higher than its output, we must recognise that not all units can or will be built in the year that permission is granted. Hoarding land or choking off supply is not rational behaviour for developers.”

NLP’s report says developers do hold stocks of land, but much of this does not have any planning status. Therefore, this can only be developed if a local authority agrees to allocate the land and/or grant permission.

Spry added: “For the vast majority of the sites in these strategic land banks, it will prove extremely difficult and costly to move through the planning process, without any guarantee of being able to develop, which can mistakenly lead to the charge of land banking.”

The report notes that there are circumstances in which planning permissions lapse and are not implemented. It suggests that for every 100,000 homes granted permission, 50,000 could be expected to be completed in the first year of development, 25,000 in year two and 14,000 in year three.

The report also suggests a national planning policy and regulatory environment that de-risks planning but says effective and positive plan-making needs to be created.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, said the housing crisis is due to a number of factors and so a number of ways are required to solve it.

"During 2016, planners in England consistently delivered higher numbers of planning permissions despite the ongoing resource constraints faced by local authorities. We know many local planning services are surviving on the goodwill and professional integrity of their planners – some have faced planning staff reductions of up to 40 per cent since 2010."

Blyth told The Planner that solving the housing crisis is more than a supply problem and it isn’t just about planning permissions.

"Iit’s also about where homes are built. National figures do not give the full picture. There are a number of different housing markets around the country and different solutions are needed in different places. Better planning can ensure homes are built where they are needed and in a suitable manner."

The report can be found here.

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