Are permissions not being built out something that should worry us?

By Vince Wall

The answer is “yes” if you’re the Local Government Association (LGA), who have carried out an investigation into granted permissions. Their work found that 2,782,300 homes have been granted planning permission by Councils since 2010/11. Over the same period only 1,627,730 have been built, meaning that around 1.1 million homes were granted permission but not built.

These figures seem astonishing at first glance. However, it is worth noting that many homeowners, agents and developers choose to get planning permission, then sell on the planning proven sites, which leads the sites purchaser to make amendments and submit this as a new application. Thus appearing to show that more applications have been granted.

Furthermore from a developer’s perspective, it would be worth understanding exactly how many of these permissions relate to different applications, such as Outline permissions or Permissions in Principle. These would certainly confuse the figures by basically double counting for Outline and Reserved Matters applications granted. 

Still, the LGA believes that in order to help Councils to get developers building more quickly, legislation should be brough forward that enables Councils to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point the original planning permission expires.

The LGA goes on to argue that it should also be made easier for Councils to use compulsory purchase powers to acquire stalled housing sites, or sites where developers do not build out to timescales contractually agreed with a local planning authority.

Like many things that lobbyists, organisations and politicians say on planning subjects, this is virtuous and strident posturing. But in my opinion, it is unlikely that these measures would lead to anything aside from empty threats, lengthy court battles and headaches. This is a complex system, which contains numerous stakeholders, often with a distinct set of resources, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, the system is long winded, arduous and has few easy fixes.

Undoubtedly some developers do sit on sites, awaiting market uplift or simply treating them as financial paper assets. But we already have some measures in place to prevent this. It goes without saying that decision notices attach a time constraint to planning permissions, often stating something along the lines of “Commencement of development must be begun with 5 years of this decision notice…” This condition means that developers do already lose the permission if they don’t commence it. I would be surprised if said developers would give up those sites without a fight. It may also be tricky for local authorities to pool the resources needed to develop these sites. It is likely they would just bring in private contractors and waste a huge amount of public money. lastly, giving further powers to local Government to seize private property seems unjustified.

More information on the LGA can be found here:

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