Latest Public Sector News

07.01.16

Councils call on developer penalties to fix housing ‘bumper backlog’

Councils are calling for powers to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development in light of new research revealing that the number of homes given planning permission but left undeveloped have hit a record high, the LGA said.

The study, carried out by construction firm Glenigan based on its construction project database used by the DCLG, also found that developers are taking longer to finish work: it now takes an average of 32 months for construction to be completed from the moment permission is granted, 12 months longer than just eight years ago.

To push developers into carrying out their commitments, local authorities want to charge them full council tax for every unbuilt property from the moment the original planning permission expires.

Cllr Peter Box, LGA’s housing spokesman, said the figures also indicated that the existing planning system “is not a barrier to housebuilding”, given that councils approve nine in every 10 applications and the number of applications granted permission is at an all-time high.

“While private developers have a key role in solving our chronic housing shortage, they cannot build the 230,000 needed each year on their own,” he said. “To tackle the new homes backlog and to get Britain building again, councils must have the power to invest in building new homes and to force developers to build homes more quickly.”

But a DCLG spokeswoman said there had been a “25% increase in the number of new homes delivered over the past year alone”.

“Alongside this we're working closely with developers to ensure it has the skills it needs and saw 18,000 building apprenticeships started in 2014,” she added. “We're also directly commissioning thousands of new affordable homes and recently doubled the housing budget.”

Labour’s shadow housing and planning minister, John Healey MP, attacked the DCLG for believing “that you solve the housing crisis by simply stripping away planning rules that build affordable homes and make sure local people are consulted”.

“The government’s Housing Bill repeats these same mistakes – and chokes off much-needed affordable homes with it,” he said.

Yet the director of economic affairs at the Home Builders Federation, John Stewart, claimed that the LGA’s quoted figures “are either on sites where work has already started, or where there is not a fully ‘implementable’ permission and where it is not legal for builders to commence construction”.

“Speeding up the rate at which permissions are granted ­ i.e. the move from ‘granted’ to ‘implementable’ – is one of the keys to significant, sustainable increases in house building. Too many sites are stuck in the planning system, with an estimated 150,000 plots awaiting full sign off by local authorities,” he added.

“The LGA would be better served working with the industry to find ways to speed up the flow of implementable planning permissions so we can deliver desperately needed new homes, instead of repeatedly publishing misleading data.”

Construction skills shortage

The LGA has also argued that these stark findings shine a spotlight on the need to address a construction skills gap permeating the country. While the industry’s forecast annual recruitment is up 54% compared to 2013 – despite a recent Manpower survey predicting a 2% drop in employment for the first quarter of 2016 – the LGA says there are 10,000 fewer construction qualifications being awarded by colleges, universities and apprenticeships.

The association has always been outspoken about the need to plug the alleged skills gap in order to mitigate the “housing crisis” in the country. In June of last year, they called on Whitehall devolve funding and responsibility over employment and skills to help fix the construction industry and meet housebuilding goals, which has since started to materialise across devolution packages. In August, they called for more devolved powers to local education providers and construction employers.

Box added today: “Skills is the greatest barrier to building, not planning. If we are to see the homes desperately needed across the country built and jobs and apprenticeships created, councils must be given a leading role to tackle our growing construction skills shortage, which the industry says is one of the greatest barriers to building.

“Devolving careers advice, post-16 and adult skills budgets and powers to local areas would allow councils, schools, colleges and employers to work together to help unemployed residents and young people develop the vital skills to build.”

The LGA has recently launched a Housing Commission to outline a long-term vision for the future of housing and the relationship between councils and their communities. The commission is currently calling for evidence from authorities, organisations and the wider public, with contributions welcome before 26 February.

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