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Housing approvals surge 33 per cent

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UK residential planning approvals have shot up by a third compared to last year

Fresh data from the Home Builders Federation revealed 48,700 residential units won detailed approval in the three months to September.

The figure was 33 per cent higher than unit approvals the same time last year and represented a 20 increase on the previous quarter.

Furthermore, the increase – coupled with year on year growth in the preceding two quarters – means approvals of residential units increased 28 per cent in the first nine month of 2013 overall.

Private sector unit approvals were up 26 per cent compared with the three months to June 2013 and 38 per cent compared to last year.

Social housing units were however only up three per cent compared to the previous quarter and 15 per cent compared to 2012.

Both the Midlands and Wales saw the largest increase in unit approvals following falls in 2012. Growth in unit approvals in the South of England meanwhile lagged the England and GB averages  because of a drop in unit approvals in London.

Residential approvals by region

Residential approvals by region - click to view

HBF executive chairman Stewart Baseley commented: ‘This is the latest indicator to show how the industry is looking to quickly increase output.

‘We have already seen evidence of a rise in new homes starts and these figures show the industry’s intent to increase and sustain that over the next few years.

‘Developers are building out current sites more quickly and are now looking to invest in new sites and begin development sooner than previously planned.’

Allan Wilen from industry monitor Glenigan – which compiled the statistics – added: ‘The latest quarterly rise in planning approvals bodes well for 2014, indicating that housebuilders are responding to the rising demand from house purchasers, which is in part supported by the Help to Buy scheme.

‘Furthermore the sharpest rises in planning approvals during the quarter were outside of London and the South East, pointing to a broadly based upturn in new housing market activity and project starts during 2014.’

The analysis was based on all schemes – including mixed use developments – featuring 10 or more residential units.

Chris Medland of south west London-based One-world design said the last three months had been ‘very encouraging’ and reported a surge in enquiries from SME developers and private individuals looking to refurbish and extend.

He said: ‘Fee paying Workload has increased with more enquiries resulting in real projects, we have recruited twice in the past quarter and expect to do so again in early 2014.

‘It is early days, but the signs for small practices like ours are positive, we are optimistic and expected sustainable growth during the next 12 months.’

Residential approvals

Residential approvals

Arup Associates director Hal Currey said: ‘We’re seeing more clients prepared to progress from feasibility to a planning application – and a willingness from local authorities to enter a positive dialogue.  Also encouraging is a growing recognition that quality of design can result in increased values.’

He added: ‘Funding remains a concern and consequently clients are looking at stage by stage consultant appointments, with a negotiation at each stage.  This has its challenges in terms of practice management and forecasting.

‘We remain cautiously optimistic that the upturn can be sustained – but feel that any sign of a wobble in value will be keenly felt across the industry.’

Peter Morris of Peter Morris Architects said: ‘We have seen dramatic number of house extensions due to the rising costs of moving and the more relaxed permitted development rights.

‘[But] comparing it with an all-time low of recent years gives false hope.

‘The planning system is on its knees. Outdated, under resourced. It is overly concerned with the micro, without seeing the bigger picture, [hence] the unprecedented housing shortage.’

11.04 Architects founder director Chris Roche added: ‘The Planning System remains problematic, and the presumption in favour of development is not universally shared.

‘The UK has a massive housing problem which will affect generations of new households and a 19 per cent increase is important but not significant.

‘Housing costs need to be addressed on all fronts, beginning with unsustainable land costs, which are a product of a dysfunctional planning system.’


Further comment

  Micah Sarut, managing director of Inter Urban Studios
We have noticed a large uptick in the residential London market this year. Our practice has grown substantially in 2013 through increased activity from existing as well as new residential clients. We are seeing around 65% of our workload from residential developers the rest from private clients but have noticed a large increase in interest from private clients which suggest that this side will grow in the coming months. The number of applications submitted to London councils has increased 10-fold.

New, small developers have made it back on the scene which I could only attribute to better financing opportunities and of course the insatiable demand for residential properties in London. Restrictive planning policy continues to be a factor in house prices but understaffed councils make receiving actual permissions increasingly difficult with many small schemes in red tape for a year or more. In fact what we are seeing is vast increase in planning applications and new projects as the market gains more confidence in the ‘can’t lose’ zeitgeist of the London market but an increase in planning backlog and difficultly interacting successfully with councils leading to long delays and appeal cases.

Stuart Carr, director for residential at Chapman Taylor
We are conscious of a positive uplift for support from council officials for residential projects where contentious issues might have prejudiced such support in the past. The overwhelming need for an uplift in housing output with its positive impact on the economy in general has been embraced by the public and private sectors. The construction industry is responding to this uplift by becoming more selective in their tendering procedures which will inevitably push prices up with consequential benefits for consultants and construction professionals.  It feels sustainable this time round.

Heinz Richardson, director at Jestico +Whiles
We have not specifically noticed an uplift in residential planning approvals – the planning process is far from streamlined in London with the average time to get permission being around 18 months from project inception – hardly speedy.

However what we have found is a confidence amongst developers because of the improving residential market to advance (very quickly) historic permissions that have remained on the shelf for the last few years.

The construction sector is definitely on the increase although any suggestion that this translates to a similar uplift in Architects’ fees is at present wishful thinking. Whether we are heading towards sustained growth is a moot point which is rather dependent upon interest rate stability and low inflation. There are already signs of a heating up of the market particularly construction materials pricing.

Dominic J Eaton, director at Stride Treglown
I’m surprised to see that residential planning permissions have increased year on year by 31 per cent. Although since I haven’t done any in-depth research I can only base my reaction on my experiences and what I see happening in the market.

A number of our schemes are stuck in the area of concept design (Plan of Work 2) and viability, one project has been in this limbo for over a year now. This relates to minimising risk, particularly by the banks, who want to achieve this by having more work undertaken in the form of pre-app meetings, public consultations and third party presentations. All this before they press the button to get on with the application, which often for us means working at risk.

The planning process also seems over complicated and demanding with regards the amount of information required. The biggest ‘hot-potato’ at the moment relates to highways, refuse vehicles and parking. We are involved in some large scale housing regeneration projects in Bishop Stortford, Northampton, Derby and Locking Parklands outside Weston Super-Mare, and without exception the issue relating to all these schemes is to do with highways. Shared surfaces, adopted roads, allocated parking, parking on plot, too many cars, too few cars, cars that are visible and detract from the public open spaces! This subject and the many associated issues cause a lot of extra work and delays to the application.   

I am pleased that a large number of our projects respond positively to the sites constraints and opportunities and this is often recognised and applauded by the Local Planning Authority. Unfortunately, what is seen as good contemporary design by the LPA, is often seen as too modern and inappropriate by the public, nimbys, parish council or English Heritage and the whole thing goes round in circles. We had a relatively small scheme in north London deferred at committee three times because of a particular vociferous Parish Council before it eventually received approval. We have experience this on a number of schemes where the client is committed to delivering an exemplar scheme only to be delayed by the process, although approval is achieved eventually, but often for not the best scheme after everyone has had a piece of it! And in all cases, all the schemes that relate to these the examples go to committee with a recommendation for approval.

The relevance of these issues highlighted, is that I think a lot more could be done to improve the planning process to make it more efficient, and therefore deliver more successful applications which in turn will convert into more building and more homes. This would assist towards sustainable growth and an improved economy.

My radical proposal would be to give the case office greater powers so that more applications could be determined without going to committee. Sometimes, looking around the assembled committee I feel that most of them don’t have a clue! I think it is frustrating to all involved when an application goes in front of a committee with a recommendation for approval, and is deferred or worst overturned and refused.

We have recorded a tiny rise in residential projects enquiries this year compared with last year, at the same time. This also applies to the accumulative total of all the sectors throughout all our offices. Although our data doesn’t analyses how different regions are performing.

The question regarding an ‘uplift in the number of housing schemes winning planning permission recently’ is a difficult one to answer. I would say that we have experienced less schemes winner approval compared with last year, but these recent approvals tend to relate to bigger schemes so the actual number of houses approved is greater.

I think the residential market is improving and I am very optimistic for 2014, although it is a slow process and not as buoyant as the media would have us believe!  









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