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Getting Britain building again

13 May 2020

Fundamentally, we can only build what we have permission for. We need to deregulate the post-planning permission workload to that which is necessary. In short, we need to crack on and ensure we have permissions in place!

I’m sure, like me, we have all found the last few months filled with many more questions than answers, both in our personal and professional lives. Whilst we eagerly await the daily 5pm press conferences in the hope we might see the ‘end’ and be ‘all knowing’, we have spent our days grappling with simpler issues. Will my home broadband survive? Do I have enough hand soap? Can I take ibuprofen?

But with all this swirling around my mind, I still find myself grappling with the hardest question of them all – what will happen to ‘housing numbers’?

What impact is our current situation going to have on building the much needed and unprecedented (sorry) level of homes we desperately need?

Well, in simple terms, we have already lost two months of physical house building activity, and it is likely that more will be lost as we slowly ease back into site and construction activity, despite many housebuilders starting to mobilise this week.

Many of us will be familiar with the five year land supply (5yls) arguments, and the flip-side of the coin, the housing delivery test (HDT). For those unfamiliar, these instruments are applied by central government to ensure authorities both plan for and deliver enough housing. 

In my view, it is far too early to predict any lasting impacts, but it is likely that this global issue will have a greater impact on the HDT than it will on the 5yls position, purely due to the immediate impact being spread over a longer five year period. This ‘return’ or ‘righting’ could be assisted by faster decision making, albeit decision making in the current climate, especially by Planning Committee, is a learning curve.

The HDT is a more difficult one, as output cannot just be increased. Whilst larger regional developers and housebuilders may be able to ease back in the coming weeks, smaller housebuilders may just not have the necessary infrastructure or support in place for some time to come. Flexibility will be needed to avoid LPAs slipping into the ‘titled balance’ if they fare poorly in the HDT.

Fundamentally, we can only build what we have permission for. We need to deregulate the post-planning permission workload to that which is necessary. In short, we need to crack on and ensure we have permissions in place!

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's (MHCLG) publication this morning (Wednesday 13 May 2020) outlining further changes to the system has brought much needed flexibility to the planning system, but it still falls short in some areas. Why has MHCLG not yet followed our Scottish neighbours in extending the life of permissions, something that will no doubt help increase delivery in the long run? The debate on this matter I doubt is far from over.

A far-reaching, positive amendment that is included is the delaying / deferring of CIL payments. Whilst we will have to wait for legislative changes, this certainly provides an avenue for sensible discussion to take place, even if it is limited to developers with a turnover of less than £45 million.

All this reminds us that our housing needs are not going away. In fact, in some ways, it is even greater now given our understanding of the need to have homes suitable for social distancing and isolation. Like many within our industry, I will be closely following this matter across the country’s regions which are grappling with this issue. In many ways, it is an issue that we have the ability to positively affect should we have the confidence to make changes, unlike many of the unknowns we are currently living with.

Stuart Slatter leads Planning Potential's specialist residential team. For advice, insight, or to share your views on Stuart's views above, get in touch on 020 7357 8000, or by email at [email protected]