Leading land agent Aston Mead says that the only way the government has any chance of hitting its housebuilding targets is by privatising the planning system.
Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Adam Hesse says reforming to the planning process should now be the focus, rather than making cuts to stamp duty – which might actually be detrimental to the property market.
He said: “For decades, housebuilding in this country has been trying to cope with a planning system that is no longer fit for purpose. It’s antiquated, understaffed and creaking at the seams – not helped by a raft of austerity cuts, which have left the system seriously overstretched and achingly slow.
“But instead of recognising this and doing something about it – as we’ve seen in the Chancellor’s recent mini-budget – the government makes tinkering changes to stamp duty, which is likely to artificially stoke house price inflation, making an eventual fall in prices inevitable.
“The trouble is, tax incentives alone don’t change the market fundamentals – which is demand outpacing supply, itself made worse by a planning system that’s simply not up to the job.”
Adam Hesse says that privatising planning would make the single biggest difference to increasing housing supply, thereby helping to keep prices down.
He explained: “Let’s face it, if a business was run like a local planning department, it wouldn’t be around very long.
“So, we need to seize what aspects business does well – conducting a slimline operation with rapid decision making, whilst keeping an eye on the bottom line – and introduce these factors into the planning system, in order to get things done.
“What’s more, we need to take the politics out of planning. When local councillors are asked to make planning judgements, they will inevitably be influenced not by what is right or good, but instead how their decision might affect the chances of them being re-elected – which is clearly madness!
“Worse still, even if planning officers advise acceptance of a proposal, they can be overruled by councillors. If the developer’s subsequent appeal is granted (often the case because the planning officer has said it ticks the necessary boxes), the council has to pay costs – which is an appalling waste of taxpayers’ money.
“Of course, in order to prevent corruption, there would need to be some checks and balances introduced into the system. But just as architects are governed by the RIBA and surveyors are governed by the RICS, there could be a similar governing body for privatised planning agencies.
“And this is not such a radical suggestion; after all, building control has already been privatised. And it’s not unknown for councils to have members of staff paid directly by developers, to help speed up the whole process.
“But if the planning system is left as it is, departments will remain understaffed and overworked, and long delays will continue. Not only will this involve all the knock-on problems for the related professions – such as architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, kitchen fitters, painters, decorators, electricians, plumbers and developers – it means thousands of potential homeowners will be denied the opportunity to purchase the property they’ve been dreaming of.”