The outcome of the government’s Red Tape Review is eagerly awaited by housebuilders, many of whom have felt weighed down by a significant increase in legislative controls in recent years.
Designed to remove unnecessary impediments to the planning and building process, effective reforms are essential in facilitating the efficient and timely delivery of housing developments.
First and foremost, unnecessary delays in the planning process are a significant issue. While it typically takes 13 weeks for a planning decision to be reached, glitches in the system or a lack of communication between officers and the members of the planning committee can cause undue delays or for an application to be refused unexpectedly. This can be financially devastating for small developers, who are often backed by third party funding and held accountable to tight delivery deadlines.
While the continuation of stringent safety controls is essential, there are a number of measures that could be introduced to simplify the planning process. In the new regulatory environment, the government should aim to increase transparency and consistency, introducing legislation which provides clearer standards of design and technical specifications. Furthermore, if a planning application is refused on the grounds of a minor issue or easily remedied violation, arbitration and dispute resolution should be offered to fast-track the application’s approval. Negotiating a compromise in this way would mean developers, particularly smaller housebuilders , are more likely to secure a consent, without incurring the time and cost constraints associated with making an appeal or submitting a fresh application.
Crucially, increased investment is required in order to speed up the planning process as a whole. Although incentivising local authorities to progress applications quicker would be a step in the right direction, many planning departments are already running at full capacity. Funding for recruitment, training and retention must be set aside if a real improvement is to be achieved.
Another area where housebuilders are keen to see reform surrounds the activity of third party suppliers. Often, developers suffer due to the disorganisation and poor communication of broadband providers and utilities companies, meaning that mandatory provisions such as power, water and internet connectivity are not available in a timely manner. This can cause significant reputational damage for the developer, many of whom rely on recommendation as a key sales driver. In order to combat this, regulations surrounding the responsiveness of third party suppliers should be considered, specifically, legislation setting out a reasonable timeframe in which utilities should go live and penalties for non-compliance.
The potential measures listed above are by no means exhaustive, as there are a number of areas where the government has earmarked the potential for cutting red tape, including; roads and infrastructure, utilities and environmental requirements. However, this much is certain, housebuilders must be supported if UK housing targets are to be met. This begins at a legislative level, so if the Government get it right, don’t be surprised to see some big, and welcome, changes.
Belinda Laurance is a partner and real estate specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau