The housing industry is crying out for fresh recruits across all roles. The data is very clear on this. 

Guy Burnett

Guy Burnett

The UK Trade Skills Index 2023 demonstrates that nearly one million new hires will be needed over the next decade, a quarter of which will be qualified apprentices. There is, however, a more insidious concern withing the housing system that runs far deeper and starts much earlier than those responsible for breaking ground on site. This issue is the chronic lack of planners.

Major housebuilders and housing associations are undertaking a significant push on recruitment, specifically within the trades. Housing developers are very keen to fill their own skills gap, and there is a cultural push for brickies, carpenters and electricians to get into the construction industry. That is all well and good, but without skilled planners, housing delivery grinds to a halt.

Housing associations are growing ever more deeply concerned about the supply and demand of affordable housing, both for the schemes built in partnership with developers and for bespoke affordable developments in the communities that need them most. Construction is one of the UK’s primary economic drivers, and within it the affordable housing sector is solely dedicated to ensuring that people have a secure roof over their heads. There could not be a topic more urgent nor emotive than housing need.

The issue with the affordable housing pipeline is exacerbated by the planning system as it exists today. Time and time again, new homes developments and affordable housing schemes are delayed by local blockers, Nimbys and wider obligations that local planners just can’t meet. Councils are cut to the bone and often can’t support planning issues or sign off developments in time. The political landscape is particularly turbulent and there are inconsistencies in both the guidance and delivery flamework for planners. When there is so much bureaucracy and even more hoops to jump through, the crux of the issue is that there’s just not enough planners to meet the demand for housing.

The pain is already being felt of inadequate and insufficient planning officers in the system. The approvals process is delayed because more time is needed to review applications, consult and issue approvals. This affects the pace of development projects and leads to a backlog. Not to mention that understaffed planning departments can struggle to remain consistent with their decision-making.

That’s why we are calling for a greater recruitment and training of planners this National Apprenticeship Week. The conversation around the industry skills shortage is much bigger than just the builders and carpenters, and while planning remains high on the government agenda, the issues of staffing within local authorities cannot be ignored. An injection of funding specifically for the training of planning officers that understand affordable housing must be addressed by the government. These individuals are essential for the long-term strategic planning of housing on a local level – they understand the bigger picture, both social and political, and can translate it into a local narrative. Investment in training and employment in these roles is the single most important thing that we can do to stimulate housebuilding and achieve the government’s 300,000-new-homes target.

When it comes to affordable housing, there is a serious lack of education on the need for low-cost housing beyond social rent. Without the existence of local planners, it is neither easy nor straightforward to build bespoke developments to buy – both with shared ownership and rent to buy/London living rent.

That is because good planners consider the evolving housing needs of local communities and can read changing demographic trends – this is essential for delivering sustainable and resilient affordable housing solutions for today and for the future.

During a time when planning officers are under greater scrutiny, and there is increased pressure on housing delivery, the best thing would be to adequately fund and staff the roles that are supposed to deliver this. Greater reform of the planning system will come with time, but first, we need more man and woman power.

Guy Burnett is executive director of development at SO Resi