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Small builders held back by land and planning resource scarcity

Words: Huw Morris
Housing / iStock_000002477215

A lack of land and under-resourcing of local authority planning departments are major barriers to development by small and medium-sized (SME) house builders, according to research.

The latest annual survey of members by the Federation of Master Builders reveals that a lack of available and viable land is the biggest barrier to SMEs delivering more homes, with two-thirds citing this as an issue.

Members also identify under-resourcing of planning departments as the most important cause of delays in the planning process, and criticise “excessive information requirements” as a significant additional cost to applications, Federation chief executive Brian Berry said: “The biggest challenge facing SME house builders is the planning process. Councils need to find a way of allocating and granting planning permission for more small sites. The current focus on large sites is squeezing out smaller developers, which is reducing competition in the housing market at a time when we need more, not less, choice.

The federation blamed the limited supply of opportunities for small-scale development as one of a number of key structural constraints that has seen a major decline in the homes built by SMEs in the past 30 years.

“SME house builders must be seen as a key component of the government’s housing strategy,” added Berry. “This means a renewed focus on granting planning permission to small sites. At the same time, the government needs to press ahead with its proposed planning reforms, including a presumption in favour of small-scale development.

“Planning departments also need to be adequately resourced so that they have the capacity to engage more closely with SME house builders and ensure planning applications are processed through the system as speedily and efficiently as they can be.”