“Build, build, build” – (yes Boris, we are trying!)
Back in June, we all heard from our Prime Minister, announcing his plan to rejuvenate the British economy by investing in a dramatic overhaul of the current planning system in a bid to help the country: “build, build, build”.
This was music to our ears. Us, like many others in the industry, have felt for a long time that the current planning system is inherently broken. It’s been made to be so difficult and complicated, creating a huge barrier that it invariably pushes the smaller developers out of the game completely, allowing the bigger, national developers to dominate. You only have to look at statistics – it clearly demonstrates the huge gap between SME versus the national house builders: 30 years ago, SME developers represented 40% of new developments – that figure now stands at less than 12%.
So of course, being an SME housebuilder, Boris’s announcement of “drastic” changes to the planning reform gave us renewed hope. During his speech, Boris picked up on some very relevant facts. For example, in comparison to many of our European neighbours, the UK is very slow at building new homes, building only 2.25 per 1000 people, unlike Germany which builds 3.6 and France which achieves 6.8 per 1000 people.
We are well aware of the difficulties faced with the current planning system – aspects like localism, neighbourhood plans (which are full of contracting policies) and CIL are a particular challenge.
The need for a planning reform has never been greater. Waiting lists for affordable homes have never been bigger and homeownership among young people is dramatically lower than it was just a decade ago. By increasing the number of houses available it would help in easing the demand and therefore stabilising the economy. The UK has significantly been under in recent years in terms of its target of new homes and a great deal of this can be contributed to the difficulty in obtaining planning permission, with many developers being put off completely by the process.
Whilst we welcome the idea of planning reform, we feel that as the system currently stands it does not work at all in favour for SME developers and so to be successful a full override would be required. The likelihood of this happening and timescale it could happen in? This is where our confidence drops based on previous policies and lack of speedy – or drastic enough – changes in the past. However, we truly hope that this time the changes that are so desperately needed will be able to come to fruition.