22 January 2020

Political parties state they want more homes built to solve the housing crisis, but is the current system fit for purpose to achieve it?

Surely, the answer must be no.

Our planning system only tends to work well where there is political will in the planning departments at a local level. The Government wants decisions on planning to be made locally, which is fine in theory. However, quite often local vested interests get in the way and slow the planning and building process down. Large developers can use the appeals process to overcome local objections but that all takes time.

Further delays can arise from environmental issues. It’s admirable that all the political parties are keen to show their green credentials and protect the environment for generations to come. However, the chances are that, in the construction and development world, this is likely to have an impact and increase the delay in building further.

I’ve been acting on behalf of housing associations for many years and have encountered further restrictions to building homes. For example, the sector has been frustrated by the insistence of some local authorities that require restrictive planning agreements (section 106 agreements). These substantially reduce the value of the land, which in turn means that the housing association cannot borrow as much as it would otherwise be able to do. That all means less social housing and further delays.

There are many initiatives, like modular build and new waste disposal techniques, that could revolutionise the residential market, but on the whole, these have not yet been adopted.

Still, developers and housebuilders are currently being delayed by issues around VAT and corporation tax where HMRC is naturally reluctant to make decisions that are perhaps seen as breaking new ground. They have to stick to current precedent having no authority to change the law, unless the Government steers them in a new direction.

On top of all that, the price of land is high. When the Government puts more money into initiatives (which it is doing a lot on this front at the moment) that tends to inflate the price of land. Alternatively, the Government could make it a stipulation of any grant payment that it is only payable where the cost of the land remains the same or even less than it would have been before the grant came into existence.

Whatever laws are made, there will always be people looking to frustrate their proper operation and the civil servants working in the various departments have no authority to change anything – they can only apply the law.

So, in my view, the Government should create a task force that is given statutory authority to identify blockers to development and propose fast track solutions to Parliament. The current Government has the votes (and hopefully the will) to be able to push through change and direct the relevant departments to deliver. I envisage that the task force would have the authority to work across all departments and prevent them from working in silos.

This is not about a fundamental change in the law – anything they propose should be in line with the intention of the relevant act of Parliament or statutory instrument. Still, the remit should be to enable and speed up positive and sustainable development.

Andrew is speaking at the Regeneration and Development Conference and Exhibition on Tuesday 25 February in Manchester. Book your place today.

Andrew Dudley

Andrew is head of the social housing team at Wright Hassall.

Andrew is head of the social housing team at Wright Hassall. He has been acting for housing associations for nearly 40 years. He specialises in stock transfer and property development.

Andrew learnt his trade for development work acting for Alfred McAlpine Homes Limited buying sites, setting up the sales documents and managing the plots sales team. This taught him how developers take risks and how they maximise their profits using ransom strips, overage and the very proactive approach to plot sales. He has used this knowledge to protect his housing association clients and advise them on the developer type approach to sales.

Building more homes – what do we need?