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Enhancing local authority powers can rebalance housebuilding sector, say countryside campaigners

4 June 2015

Abandoned housing development near Burford, Oxfordshire Abandoned housing development near Burford, Oxfordshire © Chris Howes/Wild Places Photography / Alamy

CPRE paper finds nine largest housing developers have 314,000 housing plots in strategic land banks

A new research paper from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), published today, argues that giving local authorities greater powers could greatly increase the number of suitable housing sites being brought forward for development.

The paper, Getting houses built, argues that the focus on profitability within the current housebuilding sector, dominated by a small number of volume builders, is dictating supply but not meeting need. This focus has adversely affected the location and build-out rates of new housing. Greenfield land is being targeted for its ease and lower risk, while suitable brownfield land nearby remains unused and too few affordable homes are built [1].

In analysing the sector, the report finds that the nine largest volume housebuilders have long-term strategic land banks of 314,000 housing plots [2]. CPRE acknowledges that private developers have a duty to their shareholders over national housing targets, but this figure indicates the need to reform the current system to accelerate the supply of homes in the right places.

Following the recent Government announcements on the Right to Build and a new register of brownfield sites, the paper suggests a number of options that could empower local authorities to accelerate house building [3]. It suggests that authorities could be given ‘use it or lose it’ measures if permissioned land is not developed quickly; that authorities could learn from European land acquisition models and use reformed Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) to acquire land suitable for housing at existing use value [4]; and that authorities could levy council tax on housing that is unfinished two years after the granting of planning permission.

In further recommendations, the paper suggests that smaller sites, often on brownfield land, must be more regularly identified, as currently just eight per cent of sites securing planning permission are smaller developments [5]. All land (including that held ‘in option’, or strategic banks) should also be compulsorily registered.

Getting houses built is the fourth paper in the Housing Foresight series for CPRE [6].

Luke Burroughs, author and research and policy advisor at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comments:

“The need for volume builders to seek high levels of profitability limits the amount of new housing. It also delays the delivery of new houses and increases the likelihood of new housing being built in less suitable locations. Large scale greenfield sites are forced through the planning system with new housing slowly drip-fed onto the market, while suitable brownfield land remains undeveloped. This leaves our countryside under threat and urban areas in need of regeneration.

“If we are to reach targets of 200,000 homes per annum or more, local authorities must be empowered in the development process. Improving transparency in land ownership and viability assessments would greatly boost residential development. Local authorities can also help small-scale builders develop suitable smaller sites by doing more to identify and earmark these sites for development.”


Notes to Editors

[1] Please see previous CPRE reports Targeting the countryside [September 2014] and From wasted space to living spaces [November 2014].

In studying the appeal decisions on applications for major housing developments on greenfield land between March 2012 and May 2014, Targeting the countryside found that planning inspectors overturned the decisions of local councils in 72 per cent of cases where there was no defined housing land supply.

From wasted space found that there is space for at least a million homes on brownfield land across England, and that brownfield land is a regenerating resource.

[2] According to their 2014 annual reports, England’s nine largest house builders hold approximately 315,000 plots in their strategic land banks. They are Taylor Wimpey, Barratt, Persimmon, Berkeley, Bellway, Bovis, Redrow, Galliford Try and Crest Nicholson.

[3] As part of the Queen’s Speech on 27 May 2015, the Government announced that it was launching a ‘Right to Build’ policy to give people the right to be allocated land with planning permission to self-build or commission a local builder to build a home. It also announced a register of brownfield land to fast track the construction of homes on previously developed sites near existing communities. Department for Communities and Local Government, 26 May 2015, ‘Over a million more people given the chance to own their own home’.

[4] I.e., agricultural land values or industrial land values as opposed to the value of land in residential use.

[5] Despite the widespread availability of small, and nearly always brownfield, sites in urban areas, just 8 per cent of all planning permissions between 2007 and 2013 were granted to schemes of fewer than 10 units. Realising the capacity of suitable small sites is essential to accelerating housing build-out rates, and local authorities can take steps to improve site identification. See L. Spratt, An analysis of unimplemented planning permissions for residential dwellings, Local Government Association, 2013.

[6] The Housing Foresight series of papers look at innovative ways to tackle the UK housing crisis. The reports do not set out CPRE’s policy position on housing, but aim to provoke debate over the future of housing policy. The previous reports have discussed: how to empower small- and medium-sized house builders; how we can remove obstacles to brownfield development; and how to improve development on brownfield land.

If you would like to talk to report author Luke Burroughs about the report in more detail then please contact Benjamin Halfpenny on 020 7981 2819 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Sir Andrew Motion, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen. 

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