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The answer to the housing crisis: unblocking planning

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Craig Casci of Grid Architects argues that housing problems are a symptom of the broken planning system, not the lack of land or delivery

When David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, described the housing market as ‘dysfunctional’ he was right. An expanding population, demographic changes and current lifestyle expectations have all contributed to the current crisis of supply and demand.  

Add the lack of available credit and the situation for would-be home-buyers is bleak.

It is not so much demand that is riding high, but need. As for the supply; credit restrictions also affect developers with only the larger and more experienced attracting the confidence of funders in what is undeniably a complex and challenging building industry sector.

Planning by appeal is no longer the expensive consequence of a failed application but a realistic alternative to a local level consent

The net result of the current market is a significant upturn in the rental market. There is a demand, but renting is increasingly expensive.  Affordable renting?  That was dealt a blow by central Government which, instead of stimulating activity, is cutting back funding for affordable housing and even forcing redundancies within planning departments. 

Every way you turn there is a restriction. The Eric Pickles/George Osborne response to the supply blockage is to look just at the front end; land supply. With a presumption to development, easing up some greenfield land and a change of use for what are factories, offices and warehousing, the volume house-builders, they think, will be back in business in a big way having lots of cheap land rather than that nasty, difficult-to-deal-with brownfield inner city stuff! Cheap land equals lots of cheap houses bought with restricted wealth. Voila. A masterstroke so far from reality that respondents are left incredulous.

The prime minister has stepped into temper the better heeled complainants, while the RIBA say that it doesn’t matter anyway as the homes that would be built are all far too small. Like the two old ladies in Carnagie’s Deli who observed that the food was terrible and the portions too small.

What happens when these permitted development change of use applications hit the detailed application phase is not clear from the emerging NPPF.

With properly funded, decisive planning departments we could see greater house building activity immediately

But chances are they will join the long list of current applications that inch through the planning system day by day and will shortly be administered by smaller planning departments. And that is where Pickles will find the blockage in the housing world; not in the supply end of land availability, not in the in the delivery end which awaits mortgagees; but in the middle, mired somewhere in the planning departments.  The evidence is in ‘planning by appeal’. It is no longer the expensive and time consuming consequence of a failed application but a realistic alternative to a local level consent.

Government will not do what they ask entrepreneurs to do - speculate to gain. But with properly funded, decisive, even pro-active, planning departments we could see greater house building activity immediately. 

Let the fewer and larger developers who are skilled to take on complex high density brownfield, rather than low density greenfield sites, do deals on housing supply with the Local Authority in exchange for a speedier planning process. On the stat sheet that is not speculation. It is investment, namely it shows a tangible return. No favours need to be done, no back scratching. Just fund the application process properly, get a speedy decision and in return accept an obligation to build houses - even to space standards appropriate for the market demands.

This will not solve the housing crisis - what it will do is show us how bad the housing crisis is by having a fast flowing, efficient conversion of land-bank to product.  And it can start tomorrow.



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Readers' comments (1)

  • Well done , avoid planning cttmes which meet in the afternoon , ie south cambs , its full of people retired , whose sole function is to return to refuse apps , on the grounds that we like it as it is , how did they ever acquire a property post 1930,s theghost of john bejetiman is a live and well .

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