Leading land agents Aston Mead say that planning delays of over a year are forcing individual building projects to be abandoned, and slowing UK development overall.
Director Adam Hesse says that decisions over even the most modest-sized sites are taking an unacceptably long time to bring to conclusion, forcing some small and medium sized developers out of business.
He explained: “Small, brownfield sites in our towns and villages are often unearthed by SME developers. But quick turnover even for these more modest locations is prevented by a planning process which is clunky, time consuming and not fit for purpose.
“The trouble is, local planning authorities encourage a pre-application meeting on all sites before planning is submitted. But meetings often can’t be arranged for two months or more – and even when they do see the applicants, they seem unwilling to give any meaningful direction or advice.”
“It’s often the case that this means people are submitting an application without knowing if the planning department will approve of what is being proposed. Then it takes six to eight weeks to register, and another eight weeks to be heard. So just on the main application, six months can potentially go by without getting any decision whatsoever. And if it goes to appeal, staff shortages mean that there’s a minimum of an additional six months before the case can be heard.”
Adam Hesse cites a planning enquiry submitted by one of his clients to the district council on 1 May this year. The council replied saying that because ‘workloads are very high’, there was no guarantee that it could provide a response by 26 June – a full eight weeks later – saying ‘we would appreciate your patience if we are unable to do so.’
He adds: “So even if developers pull out all the stops, it can still take between 8 and 14 months to get a decision on even smallish sites. Delays like this stall the engine room of SME developers, and UK development in general.
“Local authorities are always telling us that there simply are not enough staff to handle the volume of enquiries that they are receiving. Employees are being run ragged, which leads them becoming de-motivated, which increases the chance of people leaving, and so the problem continues.
“Council planning departments need to be provided with more funding to cope with the workloads they are currently under. Only then will we be able to return the housing market to full capacity.
“Indeed, the current Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), which is consulting with boroughs across the UK about releasing greenbelt for development, would have a far easier job if these smaller brownfield sites could be fast-tracked through the planning process. That way, targets would be more easily achieved, which would reduce the need for the release of additional greenbelt. Everyone wins.”