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Leading land agent Aston Mead says claims that housebuilders are ‘landbanking’ - deliberately sitting on plots of land without building on them - are a smokescreen for the UK’s broken planning system.

The company’s comments follow newspaper reports that developers currently possess enough land to create more than 600,000 new homes in Britain – a figure which is four times the total number of houses built in the country last year.

Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Adam Hesse said; “Why would houseuilders sit on land when we are in the throes of a building boom following the worst recession in a generation? We deal with all the major developers in the country and they are desperate for land to build on. Any land which comes with planning already in place, the bulldozers very often go in within days of the deal to buy it being completed.

“As well as the likelihood of a hike in interest rates, there is a chance we may have another downturn by the end of the decade. So if I was a developer and had all this land with planning in place, I would be building while the demand was there, while house prices were going up and while interest rates were almost zero. If you aren’t going to build in these current conditions, you never will!”

Adam Hesse claims that it is the UK’s planning system which is the major culprit in preventing construction taking place on a majority of sites already owned by developers.

He explained: “The truth is that our current planning system is broken. Council planning departments are understaffed and overstretched and the process is slow and laborious. In many areas, a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ prevents anything being built at all. Plus there’s massive disharmony in the ranks of planning departments – some of which have been cut by more than 50% over the last five years. I even know of one local planning authority where the staff had to re-apply for their jobs – not exactly ideal when morale is already at rock bottom.”

Adam Hesse suggests that any plots which are being sat on are often ones where the site is financially unviable – perhaps because the local planning authority is asking for too large an affordable housing contribution. There might also be sites where planning is in place, but adjoining land needs to be secured before building can begin.

He added: “Housebuilding has increased output at the steepest rate for decades, to a point where it is now up 25% year on year. The challenge is often around getting conditions cleared for development, particularly on major regeneration sites, and the capacity within local planning authorities to work alongside developers. But many of them have virtually no sites with an implementable planning consent that are not in production.”

 
 

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