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The Planning Portal Application Index, HCR Law Comments

27th June 2024

Head of Planning, Highways and Environment, Rosalind Andrews shares her thoughts on the inaugural Planning Portal Application Index.

The findings from the Planning Index June 2024 report highlight the multifaceted challenges faced by the housebuilding sector. Increasing the delivery of much-needed homes across the UK is incredibly complex, with the number of residential planning permissions granted being only one aspect of the issue.

According to the main political parties’ manifestos, the least ambitious target is to deliver 300,000 homes annually. However, the last time this target was met was 47 years ago in 1977, with nearly half of those homes provided by local authorities. Today, local authorities contribute only a few thousand homes annually, less than 1.5% of the 300,000 target.

To address the delays in home delivery, we must consider the entire spectrum of contributing factors.

Delays are exacerbated by slow processes in discharging planning conditions, a shortage of ecologists to prepare Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) assessments, nutrient neutrality blocks, and labour shortages.

Project viability is also a concern, given the increases in material costs and lending rates, as well as the new expenses associated with BNG requirements.

Housebuilders are eager to commence construction and break ground.

However, amidst various challenges that increase risks, we are increasingly being consulted on the essential work needed to implement planning permissions. This approach ensures that permissions are preserved, enabling developments to move forward smoothly when conditions improve.

In addition, we are providing further strategic advice on Section 106 negotiations to ensure that planning permission is secured at the optimal time. This approach allows housebuilders to better manage the timing of their obligations to purchase sites under their Option Agreements, giving them the necessary flexibility to source financing effectively and proceed with confidence.

The focus on developing and regenerating brownfield or previously developed land, often highlighted as a solution, presents unique challenges. While these sites may incur increased costs due to potential contamination, a new hurdle arises from the recently introduced BNG requirements. Brownfield sites often host open mosaic habitats, classified as “high distinctiveness habitat,” making it more expensive to regenerate them. This is because developers are now required to achieve a 10% improvement in the site’s existing biodiversity or purchase costly off-site credits.

The funding of additional planning officers, increased focus on local plans, support for councils and housing associations to build their own homes, and reassessment of Green Belt policy are all positive proposals in the manifestos.

However, to meet the ambitious target of delivering 300,000 homes a year, it is crucial to address the industry’s capacity in terms of skilled labour. With the right support and training initiatives, the housebuilding sector can rise to this challenge and achieve these goals.

The report is available from the Planning Portal.

 

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