It's time to take a stand and insist that housebuilders deliver on their current commitments before we hand over any more of our precious green spaces.
Stand and deliver!
Let’s just, for the moment, set aside the question of whether the housing targets that are being set are right in the first place (we don’t believe they are), and focus on whether the housing delivery test will lead to more houses being built – preferably more of the right houses being built in the right places.
The proposed test would work by ‘comparing the number of homes that local planning authorities set out to deliver in their local plan against the net additions in housing supply in a local planning authority area’. If there is a sustained period where housing targets aren’t being met, the current proposal is that the local authority would be made to earmark more sites for development in addition to the ones it has already identified.
The Government is right to take action to ensure that homes that are planned actually get built. But the housing delivery test proposed would be an ineffective tool, providing no incentive to increase housebuilding. Unfortunately for the countryside, all this test would achieve is to increase the amount of green space under immediate threat of development, shifting the focus further away from sustainably-located brownfield sites and other sites that have community support, towards cheaper greenfield sites that will be even more profitable for the housebuilder.
The problem is that the test wrongly assumes that local authorities can control the rate at which houses are actually built once the sites have been identified and planning permission granted. Where a local authority does all it can to plan responsibly, in terms of releasing enough land to meet housing need, and insufficient houses are built, it should be the housebuilder that is penalised, not the community. Currently, there is no incentive for housebuilders to get on with the business of actually building houses: the slower they build houses, the better the return.
In addition, the proposed housing delivery test would perversely act as a disincentive for developers to build: the slower they build houses, the more likely they will be to get permission on other greenfield sites.
Under these plans it’s the local authority and the community that are penalised for housebuilders’ failures by being forced to release more precious greenfield land for development, with no expectation that the actual numbers of homes being provided will increase.
A fairer and more effective policy would be for the Government to focus on the housebuilders rather than local authorities. Recent figures from construction consultants Glenigan show that there are currently 658,000 homes with planning permission that have not yet been built, and The Guardian also recently reported that Britain’s biggest housebuilders have a landbank suitable for 600,000 homes. This shows that the problem isn’t a lack of land for housebuilding. The problem is housebuilders not building out the permissions they already have.
The housing delivery test will also lead to a further loss of confidence in local planning and development. It will undermine councils’ power to plan for their local areas, overriding local plans by forcing councils to allocate more land. With housing targets already being set at unrealistically high levels, as shown by CPRE research, local authorities have little hope of avoiding being forced to release more land for development.
There are already plenty of carrots and sticks in place to ensure that councils get on with producing plans and granting permission for housing developments, many of which are already having disastrous impacts on the social make-up of communities and particularly on the countryside and wider environment.
Now is the time to get tough with the people in whose interest it is to ensure that just enough houses, and no more, get built each year to maintain healthy rises in property prices – a balancing act that is all about carefully failing to actually meet housing need.
Serious thought now needs to be given to incentivising developers to actually build houses. CPRE would suggest:
- the granting of planning permission should be tied to a contract with the developer that determines the rate at which homes will be built;
- failure to comply with the contract (or, in the absence of a contract, failure to construct homes at a reasonable rate) could lead to measures such as:
- financial penalties on the developer; and/or
- revocation of the developer’s right to build all or part of the outstanding planning permission, and delegation of that right to competing developers, including custom- and self-builders.
Then the Government might actually pass the test to make sure more houses are being built – and in the right places.