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Planning department cuts make housing targets impossible, LGiU finds

Almost 90% of local authorities believe that government housing targets are unattainable due to a lack of planning resources, a new joint research report has concluded.

The report, jointly made by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), is the first to draw upon experience from both local authorities and SME housebuilders across the UK, and also sought to interview planning officers.

It found that a majority of builders find a lack of planning to be a barrier to developing small-scale housing developments, with over half of councils delivering fewer than 40% of homes on small sites.

Both sectors expressed a desire for councils to be allowed to raise fees for planning applications in order to raise funds for resource-strapped planning departments.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The government aim to build one million new homes by 2020 won’t be realised unless more SME house builders can enter the housing market. That’s why the barriers that SME house builders currently face need to be removed.

“In this research, both local authorities and SME builders identify under-resourcing as a key barrier to allocating more small sites and getting planning permissions in place on them. Too often small sites are dealt with entirely by inexperienced officers. There simply aren’t enough senior and experienced planners to make the system work effectively.”

According to the FMB, small housing developers are so concerned by the poor service offered by council planning departments that they would be happy to pay larger planning application fees, provided that the fees are ring-fenced to improve services.

Berry said that the government deserves credit for the priority it is now placing on housebuilding, but housing targets will be “nothing more than aspirational” unless planning departments have more experienced staff.

Jonathan Carr-West, LGiU’s chief executive, added that small development sites often have much potential but are scuppered by the “resource and capacity pressures” planning departments face.

“We need new approaches and new partnerships to build the homes we need. By working with a wider range of local builders, councils can stimulate local economic growth, while providing jobs and training for young people in the area,” Carr-West argued.

The report also recommended that local planning authorities should be required to consider how small sites can boost the delivery of local housing, and should look to broker relationships between small builders, themselves, and landowners.

Among its other suggestions include councils pooling staff on a regional basis so they can draw on the broadest range of skills, making the applications process less complex, and the establishment of a government Small Sites Expert Task Force to develop best practice for planning small sites.

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