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Aston Mead says time limits on land lay blame at wrong door

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Leading land agent Aston Mead says government plans to introduce time limits for building on land with planning consent, with levies if developers miss deadlines, are fundamentally misguided.

The company’s comments follow news that a ‘use it or lose it’ scheme is being considered by ministers, to try to increase construction rates in the industry.

Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Charles Hesse said: “Unfortunately, the idea of time limits on land lays blame for slow build rates at entirely the wrong door. It suggests that developers are deliberately holding back from starting construction on sites, even when planning permission has been approved.

“But as a government report concluded as recently as 2018, there’s no evidence that delays are down to land being deliberately hoarded by developers. Instead, the finger of blame should be pointed fairly and squarely at the planning system – which, frankly, is currently not fit for purpose.”

Charles Hesse says that rather than beating developers with a stick, time and money would be better spent on making sure planning departments were fully funded, to enable permissions to be given more quickly.

He explains: “Take one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders, Taylor Wimpey. They have around 40,000 plots with implementable planning permission and have started developing on 94.5% of them. The remainder have issues like Tree Protection Orders or other pre-conditions preventing construction from getting underway. They simply don’t have any sites that they are not currently progressing.

“But the same is true for smaller developers as well. To suggest otherwise demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about how housebuilders run their businesses. Developers’ profits are generated from selling homes, not from an increase in the value of land they own. They never sit on sites, even when market conditions are tough. The idea that they spend their time acting like financial investors, speculating over future land values is a complete and utter myth.

“Without question, of course there are barriers to development out there. But they lie in under-funded and over-worked planning departments, each trying to deal with an avalanche of requests, without the staffing or capabilities to handle them.

“Yes, we could do with a wider variety of homes in each development, differing in size, design and setting, to increase the appeal to a range of markets.

“But the government seems deaf to the results of a series of reviews it has itself commissioned, which have warned of the downsides of such a policy. They need to listen to what the industry is telling them, reform the planning system to make it simpler, faster and more agile – and then perhaps the target figure of 300,000 homes per year could be reached after all.”