Property developers are sitting on more than 300,000 plots with planning permission for new homes, undermining the case for controversial government planning reforms.
Property developers could be free to build ‘what they like, when they like’
By James Kirkup, and Christopher Hope
10:10PM BST 14 Sep 2011
Campaigners say that the “land banks” are enough for more than two years of house building, meaning there is no need to water down current planning laws.
The Coalition wants to create a new legal “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, a change that critics say will lead to unrestrained building in rural areas.
Ministers insist that reforms are needed to increase the number of new houses built every year, thereby cutting prices.
David Cameron defended the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), telling MPs it would free up land. “We need to build more houses, to help more young people to get on the housing ladder,” the Prime Minister said.
However, figures from the building industry suggest that developers are holding large numbers of plots where they have been granted planning permission but have not started construction.
16 Sep 2011
15 Oct 2011
The figure is based on research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which found that the biggest developers last year held land with planning permission for 281,993 homes.
Industry analysts say that many companies have added tens of thousands more plots to their stocks over the course of this year.
Bovis, one of the biggest developers, said earlier this month that it had bought 1,571 “consented plots”, and was buying another 2,500. Ministers say that England needs around 230,000 extra homes a year to meet demand. But according to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), only 124,000 new homes were completed last year. At that rate, the developers are sitting on more than two years’ building land.
“We do need to build more houses, particularly affordable houses, but anyone blaming the planning system for the slump in house building is ignoring the facts,” said Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the CPRE.
“Developers are sitting on vast land banks with planning permission. The reason they are not building enough houses is that the market has collapsed and investment in social housing has been cut.
“It has nothing to do with the planning system.”
A National Trust spokesman said the figures showed that ministers were “wrong” on planning.
“These figures show that it is wrong to say that it is the planning system that is the block to development,” the spokesman said.
The two organisations are urging their millions of members to lobby the Coalition over the NPPF. The Daily Telegraph has also begun the Hands Off Our Land campaign, calling on ministers to reconsider the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Critics of the reforms believe that ministers are trying to tip the planning system in favour of developers by allowing them to build more in rural areas.
Industry experts say that the land bank mostly comprises “brownfield” sites, such as former industrial areas, which are more expensive to build on than “greenfield” land used for farming.
The Prime Minister faced questions in the Commons.
Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative backbencher and environmentalist, challenged Mr Cameron to meet the National Trust, the CPRE and other critics “to reassure them and their millions of members that the proposed changes to the planning system do not represent a blank cheque for developers”.
Downing Street has previously declined requests for Mr Cameron to meet leaders of the National Trust and the CPRE, but he told MPs he was “very happy to meet anyone” to discuss the plans.
He also hinted at alterations to the draft framework to give greater “reassurance” on development. Mr Cameron said: “What we need to happen is sensible sustainable development to go ahead without the bureaucracy and the top-down system of today, but with all the reassurances that people need.”
The communities department insisted that the planning system was depressing house building, and played down the importance of land banks.
A spokesman said: “Even if every one of these houses was built, it would only represent the number of homes that we need to build each year if we are to meet housing need.
“The average first-time buyer is already well over thirty. House building has slumped to its lowest level since 1924 and planning is a significant factor. These reforms are about meeting the long-term needs of this country sustainably whilst maintaining strong protections for the environment and countryside.”