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Report: Planning system delays frustrating small builders

Words: Laura Edgar
House building / iStock

Small firms are being driven away from housebuilding because of delays and rising costs in the planning system, a new report has claimed.

This is in turn slowing down attempts to tackle Britain’s housing crisis.

Research conducted by the National House Building Council (NHBC) Foundation suggests that small builders are experiencing “deeply frustrating” delays. It notes that a third have waited for more than a year for planning permission from a local authority.

In addition, nearly 80 per cent say they have experienced a significant hike in planning-related fees in the past two years.

Small House Builders and Developers: Current Challenges to Growth considers the experiences of nearly 500 companies who construct less than 10 homes a year.

The report, and others by industry professionals before it, including the Federation of Master Builders’ CEO Brian Berry, notes the decline over the past decade of the number of small and medium-sized housebuilders.

The report also suggests that the lack of available land at a suitable prices has become more of a problem for small builders with 37 per cent identifying it as a serious obstacle to growth for them.

The government announced in its housing white paper in February 2017 that it wants to bring forward more smalls sites that are more easily accessible to smaller firms.

Neil Smith, head of research and innovation at NHBC, said: "While the planning process is recognised as a necessary control, small housebuilders and developers continue to express considerable frustration with it. The increasing complexity, time taken to achieve a decision, and the unpredictability and inconsistency within the planning process are slowing the delivery of new homes and, in some cases, causing companies to leave this market.”

He said greater certainty and more standardised approaches, clarity concerning the fees and tariffs, coupled with a more responsive service from planning departments “would increase predictability and significantly help to speed up the process, thereby increasing the number of homes built”.

The RTPI has “long argued” that more needs to be done to support small to medium-sized builders, including offering ready permitted sites to them, said Richard Blyth, head of policy and research at the RTPI.

“We must get them building again if we are to tackle this nation’s housing shortage, and under-resourced planning departments is one of the issues. There are also many other ways in which small and medium builders could be given more work, such as building homes for councils, housing associations and even central government, without the need for planning permissions.”

Small and large sites should work together, said Blyth.

“Both are needed to generate developer contributions for much-needed infrastructure. However, delivering infrastructure is often harder to do if you have a spray of smaller sites than if you have one big one. On the large sites there have been some very impressive deliveries of infrastructure, which have come as a consequence of economies of scale.”

* The NHBC Foundation was established in 2006 and aims to deliver research and practical guidance to help the housebuilding industry address the challenges of delivering 21st century new homes.

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