21st February 2019

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Kit Malthouse Is The Housing Policy Big Kahuna...But Does he Have The Political Minerals To Enforce The Necessary Changes?

David Gelling, Managing Director


Is the planning system broken?  Like most developers, I’ve been asking myself that question for years, and much of my day to day experience both at This Land and in previous roles, tend to suggest that it is.  The trick, as ever, is defining what the problems are.  Only then can we seriously start to make progress in making the system work better for all those with a keen interest in it – developers, customers, communities, businesses, councils and the Government; in other words, everybody.  Helpfully, the National Audit Office (NAO) has just published a report exploring this very question.

The report, Planning for New Homes, certainly packs a punch, systematically setting out how the planning system is failing to deliver on the Government’s housing targets.  According to the NAO, in the years between 2005 and 2018, 177,000 new homes were built per year on average, with the number never going above 224,000 in a single year.   That means that delivery needs to increase by 69% to reach the Government’s 300,000 homes a year delivery target.  Yes, that’s right; 69%!!    

There reasons are many.  The NAO reckons that half of all local planning authorities (LPAs) will fail to deliver their required housing numbers, which are in any case calculated using criteria that are hopelessly out of date and not fit for purpose.  The Government’s rather chaotic approach to infrastructure delivery doesn’t help matters.  What’s stopping Government departments working with LPAs to align their investment strategies with the LPAs’ development and infrastructure plans? 

By the end of 2018, 56% of LPAs did not have an up to date local plan in place, despite this being a statutory requirement. It’s difficult for developers to bring forward development proposals in the places where LPAs want them if the LPAs aren’t themselves clear on where those places are.  Also, it’s all very well having rules in place, but little point if they are neither followed nor enforced.  Call me cynical, but this might be partly to do with the fact that (according to the RTPI) 83% of LPAs no longer have a chief planner at the council’s top table.

Better resourcing is fundamental to the situation improving.   The report states that core funding for planning within local authorities has fallen by a staggering 38% in the last seven years. The amazing thing about this is that spending on planning has dropped by only 15%, demonstrating that LPAs are compensating by getting more creative about how they raise funds elsewhere.     

The NAO has done a great service in laying out the deficiencies of the current system; now Government and industry need to come together to determine how we can achieve a faster, more fit for purpose planning system.  This Land stands ready to help the Government deliver on its aspiration for 300,000 new homes a year, but do ministers really have the will necessary to achieve what successive governments’ have repeatedly ducked?  Kit Malthouse, the Housing Minister, at least seems to appreciate the challenges.  Let’s see how his department responds to the report.