Comment: Developers can't blame planning system for stunted delivery, by Peter Bill

Housebuilders blaming "the system" for shackling output are losing credibility in Whitehall, says Peter Bill.

Peter Bill
Peter Bill

Some news from your government. What follows is an interpretation of current Whitehall mood music, picked up from hearing a just a few notes, nothing more.

Nothing that could be framed in a circular to councils from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), but fragments enough to brighten the mood of those who administer the planning system on behalf of the state.

Supplications from special interest groups to change the planning system in ways favourable to them will receive short shrift. Secretary of state Greg Clark has been there and done that during his successful reign as planning minister in the coalition government. What reward did the mild-mannered minister get for his radical improvements? A barking mad Daily Telegraph, yapping incessantly about the green belt being unbuckled. No more of that, thank you.

Next. Housebuilders blaming "the system" for shackling output are losing credibility in Whitehall as fast as private starts in England are rising: up 12 per cent year on year and well over 20 per cent in the past two years. Two weeks ago, housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis flaunted the news that 242,000 units won permission in the year to June. Subtext: builders, stop pumping for yet more permissions. The planning system has delivered. Your turn.

"Bedding down" is how one senior civil servant describes the DCLG's progress on the road from electoral promise to enacted policy. The political priority is HOUSING. A Housing Bill is in the works, in which the use of state land to build homes for sale and rent is likely to feature. But getting developers to deliver is another issue.

The top ten housebuilders alone hold 400,000 permissions, about five years' supply. The idea they can still blame planning for not building is slowly being exposed as nonsense - by their own actions. They are merrily increasing production. Indeed, if the ten per cent rise in overall starts in 2014/15 and this year were to continue for four more years, then Lewis' target of one million new homes by 2020 would be met. This makes the target sound so easily attainable that I asked Richard Donnell of property analysts Hometrack to check it. He confirmed my calculations.

Starts in the year to April 2016 will hit 185,000 if the current rate of increase is maintained. That leaves 815,000 to be built over the remaining four years of this parliament to hit the target. Can it be done? Well, add a ten per cent compound rise per year to the 185,000 estimate for 2015/16, and you get another 942,000 units, hitting the five-year figure of 1.1 million. However, this calculation assumes affordable starts rise in tandem with private ones, although budget cuts make this unlikely. Donnell says: "We may build more homes, but there may well be fewer affordable homes." The government may not care, so long as its million-home target is met.

Peter Bill is the author of Planet Property www.planet-property.net.


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