Urgent reform is needed to fix broken planning system, NAO says

A “flawed” UK government planning system will not be able to deliver the 300,000 homes that Britain needs to build every year unless changes are made, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

The public spending watchdog has published its findings in which it says the planning permission process in the UK needs to be urgently reformed and speeded up if government is to reach ambitious housebuilding targets it set itself by the mid-2020s.

The report claims that half of all councils are likely to face penalties for failing the “housing delivery test” in 2020, which requires a certain number of homes to be built in their area, despite the housing revenue account borrowing cap being lifted last year.

The NAO says that between 2005-06 and 2017-18, 177,000 new homes per year were built on average, with the number never rising above 224,000. If Theresa May was to achieve the target of 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s then there would need to be a 69% increase in the number built.

Quite worryingly, the NAO also states how despite a local area plan being a legislative requirement, only 44% of councils were shown to have an up to date local plans. Furthermore, the report identifies that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has only challenged 15 local authorities for not having an up-to-date plan.

Head of the NAO Amyas Morse said: “From the flawed method for assessing the number of homes required, to the failure to ensure developers contribute fairly for infrastructure, it is clear the planning system is not working well. The government needs to take this much more seriously and ensure its new planning policies bring about the change that is needed.”

Matthew Good is a planning director at WYG and has extensive knowledge of housing need and supply gained through over 20 years’ experience working across the public and private sectors. 

He believes that despite developers investing heavily in infrastructure across the country, the effectiveness is often hampered by the lack of a co-ordinated and planned approach to infrastructure provision at local and regional levels.

“The NAO report highlights some well-known deficiencies in the current system,” Good added. “The lack of resource in both local authorities and the Inspectorate combined with additional burdens being placed upon them has impacted upon the delivery of new homes, be this through the speed and quality of decisions upon planning applications or the production and review of local plans.”

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