Planning for New Homes – NAO Report Published

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On 8th February 2019 the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on ‘Planning for new homes’. The report is part of a series on housing in England, including Housing in England: overview (2017) and Homelessness (2018). It assesses how effectively the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government supports the planning regime to provide the right homes in the right places.

The report concludes that the Government’s planning system is “underperforming and cannot demonstrate that it is meeting housing demand effectively” which won’t come as surprising news for housing developers across the country.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government aims to support the delivery of 300,000 new homes per year from the mid-2020s. To increase supply, it has implemented reforms to the planning system to help local authorities in England determine how many, where and what type of new homes should be built. This includes a standard method for local authorities to assess the number of new homes needed in their area.

Between 2005-06 and 2017-18, 177,000 new homes per year have been built on average and the number has never exceeded 224,000. To meet its ambition, the Department will need to oversee a 69% increase in the average number of new homes built since 2005-06.

As of December 2018, only 44% of local authorities had an up-to-date local plan setting out their strategies for meeting the need for new homes, despite it being a legislative requirement. The report highlights that if a local authority can’t show it has a five-year supply of land for housing, developers have greater freedoms to build where they want, risking “ill-suited developments”.

In terms of the speed of planning applications, the report notes that local authorities are increasingly processing planning applications within target timescales, but the NAO considers that this might reflect a greater use of ‘time extensions’ rather than increased efficiency. The report also highlights that Planning Inspectorate is slow to determine appeals from developers whose applications have been refused. The time it took to determine an appeal increased from 30 weeks to 38 weeks between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

The new National Planning Policy Framework, published in July 2018, has sought to implement further changes to boost housing delivery, but it remains too early to understand whether the changes will be effective. However, it is difficult to see a significant jump in the speed of housing delivery following a 37.9 per cent reduction in core funding for planning departments in the last seven years and an overall 15 per cent reduction in local authority planning staff between 2006 and 2016. Alongside the Government’s priority for housing delivery there needs to be an equal priority to address the resource and skills shortage within local planning authority departments to help deliver housing.