More than 1.1m homes that received planning permission in England over the last decade are yet to be built, according to the Local Government Association, which called for new powers to be given to councils to encourage developers to build housing more quickly.
The LGA, which represents 327 of the 333 councils in England, said that 2.78m homes have been granted planning permission by councils since 2010/11, but over the same period only 1.6m have been built. The number of planning consents granted for new homes has more than doubled since 2010, with nine in 10 planning applications being approved by councils.
The LGA said the Queen’s speech should include legislation that enables councils to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development when the original planning permission expires.
The government should also make it easier for councils to use compulsory purchase powers to acquire stalled housing sites, or sites where developers do not build to timescales agreed with a local planning authority.
Developers have ramped up homebuilding in recent years since the slump caused by the 2009 financial crisis, with completions reaching 210,600 in 2019-20 – the highest level in the past 10 years. But this falls far short of building the 300,000 homes a year the government has pledged.
The Home Builders Federation denied that builders were sitting on land unnecessarily. Andrew Whitaker, its planning director, said: “Whilst housing supply has doubled in recent years the planning process remains the biggest constraint on further increases.
“Many of the homes included in these numbers will have actually been completed or are on sites where construction work is ongoing. Others will only have an initial consent and be struggling their way through the treacle of the local authority planning departments to get to the point where builders are allowed start work.”
Joshua Carson, head of policy at the consultancy Blackstock, said: “The notion of developers ‘sitting on planning permissions’ has been taken out of context. It takes a considerable length of time to agree the provision of new infrastructure on strategic sites for housing and extensive negotiation with councils to discharge planning conditions before homes can be built.”
The LGA says only by building more council homes can the housing crisis be tackled and the government’s housebuilding target be met. It is calling for councils to be given the powers to kickstart a social housebuilding programme of 100,000 homes a year. Polling by the association has found that 80% of MPs and 88% of peers think councils should have more financial freedoms and powers to build new homes.
Cllr David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesperson, said: “It is good the number of homes built each year is increasing. But by giving councils the right powers to incentivise developers to get building once planning permission has been granted, we can go further and faster … We need the Queen’s speech to deliver the reform needed to enable councils to tackle the housing crisis.”
Whittaker said: “We would welcome a contribution by local authorities towards housing supply but regardless of who builds the houses, evidence clearly shows that if we are to reach the 300,000 target many more permissions will need to be granted. It is vital that planning departments are sufficiently resourced and that applications are processed efficiently so that work can begin on sites more quickly.”