Following the publication of ‘Meeting Housing Demand’ last week, chairwoman Baroness Neville-Rolfe observed: “The most important aspect in terms of housing supply is planning. Frankly, all the twisting and turning over reform has had a chilling effect, creating uncertainty for housebuilders and planners.”
Among the report’s recommendations are for housebuilders to contribute more in fees to help fund planning departments, saving taxpayers money.
I agree local authorities could be better resourced but addressing the planning committee process – central to the flawed system – would be a far better way to solve the problem.
Housebuilders work hard to ensure proposals meet local development frameworks. Yet I can recall instances in the past year alone when our plans have been recommended for approval by officers only for councillors to ignore the advice and reject the schemes.
Elected officials must be given the chance to speak up on behalf of local people – they are, of course, voted in for that reason – but decisions contradicting local planning criteria risk looking counterintuitive or political. There is also a very real risk that housebuilders could avoid areas where council planning committees are routinely seen to be going rogue. They also need additional pipeline land opportunities to compensate for the uncertainty of delivering schemes that spend months or even years in negotiations.
Challenging unfair rulings costs housebuilders money yet benefits nobody. A robust process is essential to challenge rogue decisions, but it is becoming a routine part of the process, with legal fees and additional team resource needing to be factored into the cost of any development.
In addition, unless the speed of delivery from the currently under-resourced officers is improved, housebuilders will continue to deal with significant risk.
If we really want to address financial resources, and save the taxpayer more money, we must put a stop to instances where housing schemes that are carefully designed with the local plans and the specific needs of individual boroughs in mind are routinely rejected.
Mark Booth is co-founder of Hayfield