The National Audit Office (NAO) have published a report concluding that the Government’s planning system is underperforming and cannot demonstrate that it is meeting housing demand effectively.
As part of the publication of the report the NAO urged ministers to undertake detailed research into the abilities of local authority teams to cope with planning and associated housebuilding on the scale required to meet the targets set out by MHCLG with the report stating:
“We cannot conclude that the planning system currently provides value for money in terms of delivering new homes effectively.”
“The government needs to take this much more seriously and bring about improvement if it’s to meet its ambition of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s.”
The Planning for New Homes report identified a 37.9% drop in council spending on planning services between 2010/11 and 2017/18 which coincided with increased planning applications as the country emerged from recession. This was found to be somewhat mitigated by extra income from sales, fees and transfers, but an overall drop in expenditure of some 14.6% was outlined.
With broadly increasing income from planning activities, the £961 million spent across the UK on the function last year was marginally higher than the amount invested in either 2013/14 or 2014/15 but much lower than the £1.1 billion doled out in 2010/11.
The report recommended that; “The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should work with industry bodies on detailed research on the skills gaps in local authorities’ planning teams, particularly on the shortages of experienced planners with specialist skills sets”.
Elsewhere the study noted, in line with the Rosewell Report, that the average time taken for the Planning Inspectorate to determine an appeal had increased from 30 weeks in 2013/14 to 38 in 2017/18. The report states that the Planning Inspectorate has lost in the region of 100 FTE (equivalent) within the last decade.
A number of recommendations are set out and aimed to inform Ministers in respect of the best ways to move forward. These recommendations include monitoring the difference in housing targets created by the government’s standard method, councils’ own calculations and the desire to build 300,000 homes per year.
The watchdog also called for the government to set out how it will support local authorities at risk of failing the forthcoming housing delivery test, which will penalise those who fall behind targets through measures such as increased freedoms for developers.
“Looking across the landscape – from the setting of the need for new homes, to the reductions in local authority capability, the under-performing Planning Inspectorate and failures in the system to ensure adequate contributions for infrastructure – it is clear that the system is not working well … Given these problems, we cannot conclude that the planning system currently provides value for money in terms of delivering new homes effectively.”
In response to the report Housing minister Kit Malthouse MP said: “We are determined to build the homes this country needs, and planning plays a key role in our desire to build more, better, faster. But we should also acknowledge that more than 222,000 homes were delivered in 2017/18, the highest level in all but one of the last 31 years… We’re conducting independent reviews on build out rates and planning inquiries. And through multi-billion pound funding, planning reforms and giving councils the freedom to borrow more to build homes, we’re helping to make the housing market work for everyone.”