Planning reform proposals underwhelming and disappointing

Friday 17 February 2017

Planning reform set out by the Government last week is underwhelming, disappointing and fails to address the key issues at the heart of the building crisis, says property agency Strutt & Parker.

While the government’s agenda to deliver more homes is positive, the housing white paper reveals a basic failure to understand the planning system.

Strutt & Parker planning experts say far more investment is needed if reforms are to be effective.

John McLarty, Partner and Head of Planning at Strutt & Parker said: “We are encouraged by the Government’s agenda to shake-up the planning system and deliver more homes. However, this white paper must also address the disconnect between Westminster and local government, where we continue to see obstacles to the delivery of much needed homes. The ability for local government to have a real, active role or a more top down approach could be a real game changer for the Green Belt."

Alice Mesney, surveyor in Strutt & Parker’s Stamford office, said: “After such a long delay, a lot of hope and anticipation had built up surrounding this housing white paper and what it would say. Frankly, the result is underwhelming and disappointing. There is a lack of understanding about the planning system from the Government which means the issues at the heart of the house building crisis have not been addressed. Without a proper planning system in place, none of these new measures will work in the way in which they are intended. It’s very frustrating.

“The key issue which is delaying homes being built in the UK is the long process which house builders must go through after outline planning consent has been granted, before a spade can even go in the ground. Reducing the timescales for commencement of development on schemes with outline consent, from three to two years, is actually going to slow the process down rather than speed it up. Gaining ‘Reserved Matters’ planning consent can take between six and 18 months, and local authority planning schemes can’t cope with this at the moment as they are so under-resourced. Therefore, reducing the process to a shorter timescale is not realistic without significant investments in our planning departments. Heavy investment into physical ‘bums on seats’ in our local authorities is required, alongside proper training of planning councillors.

“The increase in planning application fees by 20 per cent will go towards investing in planning teams, but I fear it will not be enough and far more serious investment is needed.

“Another thing which is currently causing huge delays is the signing of section 106 agreements which relate to the infrastructure that developers are contracted to provide when building a new scheme such as roads, schools and public art. It is a public misnomer that this is due to developers negotiating hard and delaying the process; it is often due to conflicts between local planning authorities and county councils. The white paper doesn’t address this and misses a crucial point. Land banking is not something developers want to do; it fundamentally goes against their business model. They don’t want schemes to be delayed, they want to get on site as quickly as possible, build houses and then sell them.

“On the plus side, the announcement about modular housing is welcome and this type of building certainly has its place and will help supply in some areas.”

For further information and advice please contact Strutt & Parker’s Stamford office on 01780 484040.

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