What responsibility does planning have to help addressing the housing crisis?

Interesting to see Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, talking about ‘deep, structural issues’ in the UK housing market.

So what responsibility does planning have to help addressing the housing crisis? Planning has been identified as a handbrake on growth by many, and I’ve not been shy in adding my name to that point of view.  However, in my opinion, the biggest block on changing housing delivery is not planning.  It’s also not house builders and developers; the Home Builders Federation’s recent research into ‘land banking’ proved as much.

The biggest blockage is politics – and politicians, and this in endemic at both the local and national level.  For example, in no less than three different London Boroughs I was told as far back as last October not to bother putting in planning applications for residential development because of the spectre of local elections.  Firstly, it is incredibly frustrating that the redevelopment of brownfield sites for much needed flats and homes was to be seized on as a political issue.  Secondly, schemes that were ready to be submitted have been the subject of a seven month delay, resulting in accumulated holding costs for clients, which inevitably increases the cost of development, and puts pressure on the same provision of affordable housing and Section 106 contributions as existed last Autumn.  And of course, house prices have continued to rise in the interim.

Of wider concern is the continued tension between the NPPF, and the focus that document places on five year housing land supply and sustainable development with Green Belt policy (as much in the political as planning sense).  The direction provided by Secretary of State decisions on housing proposals in the Green Belt is ambiguous at best.  Very few people would risk proceeding with a planning application for residential development in a Green Belt location this side of the General Election, and indeed, I would speculate that this has been the status quo since the turn of the year.   The Courts have hardly helped developer confidence, either; the Thundersley Judgement vindicating the Secretary of State’s right to throw out applications in the face of compelling need, pure and simply on the arbitrary allocation of land as Green Belt, is a case in point.

I would suggest that rather than politicians dreaming up ‘use it or loose it’ challenges to house builders, a better exercise would be to test how many developers have schemes waiting to be submitted for planning, that are waiting for a more ambient political environment before doing so.  That would be a much more incisive test of the role that planning – but mostly politics – has on housing delivery.

Mark Carney may well have had other things to hand when referring to deep structural issues, but to my mind, all the time we are creating jobs and mass-investment in London and the South East, and failing to provide even a modicum of housing to meet existing and future needs, we are on course for a crash of some form or other, even if it is more social than economic in the short term.

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