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Planning reform 'key' to spurring housebuilding in Scotland, survey finds

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The planning system is to blame for the shortage of homes in Scotland, according to new research

A survey of 120 development professionals - including architects - found 47.5 per cent saying the length of time taken to secure planning approval had been the biggest barrier to delivering new homes that they had faced over the past year, with most expecting the situation to continue.

Infrastructure costs and constraints were cited by 20 per cent of respondents to the survey for law firm Brodies, while access to development finance was identified by 12 per cent.

Asked what Scottish government action would have the most positive impact on the housebuilding sector, 34.5 per cent of respondents suggested more funding for Help to Buy-type initiatives; 31 per cent said relaxing Section 75 infrastructure requirements; and 15 per cent cited the provision of housebuilding finance to developers.

In 2013, watchdog Audit Scotland identified a need for 21,230 new homes a year north of the border, but the most recent official data shows that just 15,541 units were completed in the year to December, up from 14,329 the year before. Both figures are significantly below Scotland’s pre-crash peak a decade ago.

Neil Collar, head of planning at Brodies, said the survey was further evidence that developers across the country were experiencing delays in consenting schemes, and that the situation was proving to be a significant hurdle.

“The system for costing infrastructure upgrades needs to be speeded up; the amount of information required to obtain approval needs to be reduced; and the planning system needs leadership and proper resourcing,” he said.

Glasgow-based architect Alan Dunlop said that while it was true the planning system needed to be speeded up, staff resourcing within local authorities was a “significant” part of the problem, and one that caused applications to be rejected on technicalities as a way to buy time for under-pressure staff.

“It’s not new for developers to call for more public funding to be spent on infrastructure upgrades, that’s one of the reasons that private developers often reject brownfield city-centre sites,” he said.

“The money they may need to spend is uncertain, for example, uncovering then upgrading a dilapidated and often complex Victorian sewer and water supply system. Instead, they prefer green-field virgin sites, which are hassle free and where they can plan and build with minimum effort and maximum return.”

He added: “What’s really needed in Scotland and in other cities throughout the UK is an increase in public investment in social housing and housing for rent.”

Edinburgh-based architect Malcolm Fraser said Scotland needed to learn how to make better use of its existing towns, communities and housing stock.

“Our housebuilders need to be encouraged to focus more on repair and housebuilding, instead of land speculation,” he said.

“We need to use tax and incentives to focus on re-nucleating homes and communities, developing brownfield land, repairing old property and encouraging us to share our homes instead of all demanding our own, individual castle.”

Fraser said “absurd” value-added-tax rules that rated new-build at 0% but charged repairs at 20% should be re-negotiated at European Union-level, however he accepted that such a measure was an issue for Westminster rather than Holyrood.

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