Government “must reform planning system if it wants to build more houses”

Survey of property professionals shows two-thirds say planning system is "challenging, time consuming and costly."

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The Government must tackle planning reform if it wants to meet its target to build more homes, according to a new survey.

Research by national property consultancy Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH), part of Connells Group, has highlighted the planning system as the largest single obstacle to residential development.

Just over two-thirds of those taking part in the annual Residential Development Survey (68%) identified the “challenging, time consuming and costly” system as the top issue facing delivery of new homes.

Respondents – including house builders, developers, investors, professional services and public sector bodies – highlighted the need to reduce red tape, simplify an “overly onerous” process, speed up the planning system and invest in council planning resources.

Election defeat

The comments come in the wake of a decision by the government to pause wholesale changes to the planning system, following June’s by-election defeat over planning issues in the safe Conservative seat of Chesham and Amersham.

Three-quarters of those questioned said the Government was not doing enough to support the delivery of new housing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 63% felt the Covid pandemic had changed housing demands, with the main drivers being an increase in demand for more space, especially outdoor/garden space, due to the shift to home working.

This is reflected in pricing, where some of the more remote and rural parts of the UK have witnessed extraordinary house price growth over the past 18 months.

More than half of those surveyed agreed that mortgage conditions have improved in the past 12 months, but responses cast doubt over the long-term efficacy of incentives such as the stamp duty holiday and Permitted Development Rights (PDR).

Planning reform overdue

In fact 76% felt that PDR – allowing change of use from commercial to residential – had made a “limited impact” to date.

With 72% per cent expecting house prices to rise further as demand continues to outweigh supply, alongside uncertainty over when development finance is expected to improve, LSH says the pressure is mounting on the government to address long-awaited planning reforms and help drive development.

Mary-Jane O’Neill, head of planning for London and the South-East at LSH, said: “Challenges faced by the residential sector run deep, and require a fundamental step change in the UK’s approach to housing delivery.

“Previous promises of radical reform had given hope of far-reaching change, so the current ‘pause’ is concerning, and hints at a U-turn on any significant overhaul.

“It remains to be seen how far [housing secretary] Gove will go, but respondents to our latest survey have been crystal clear in their demand for action and political courage. They want long-term and meaningful catalysts for change, not just tinkering with the issues and short-term fixes.”

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