Last edited 11 Jan 2016

Misleading LGA statement claims 475,000 homes with planning permission are still waiting to be built

In October 2013, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, published a 67-page report An analysis of unimplemented planning permissions for residential dwellings.

On 7 January 2016, LGA issued a press release, 475,000 homes with planning permission still waiting to be built. The press release is based on research commissioned by the LGA and undertaken by Glenigan which they suggest updates the 2013 report. However, no new report was published, just the press release and the attention-grabbing headline which was widely reported by the national press.

The text, rather than the headline, of the press release refers to ‘unimplemented’ planning permissions, without setting out what that means and leaving the reader to infer that the sites these permissions relate to are sitting idle. However, the 2013 report made clear the term ‘unimplemented’ refers not only to unstarted schemes but also to schemes that are under construction but have not been completed.

In the years 2008 and 2013, units that were under construction accounted for around 50% of the total number of units described as ‘unimplemented’. This would be approximately 240,000 of the 475,000 homes that the LGA suggest are ‘still waiting to be built’.

In addition, Glenigan only track residential developments of 10 or more units or developments of less than 10 units that are considered 'high value', and the date on which a planning application for a development is deemed to have been granted includes projects with outline planning consent when they are first granted approval of reserve matters (that is, it may not be legal to start construction).

However, other research presented in the press release does suggest that the planning system is not the only cause of delays in housebuilding:

  • Councils approve nine in every 10 applications.
  • The number of planning applications being granted permission has increased to 212,468 from 187,605 in 2007/08.
  • Developers are taking 32 months, on average, to complete construction from sites receiving planning permission, compared to 20 months in 2007/8.

The press release then suggests that delays in construction may be caused by the skills shortage, pointing out that forecasted annual recruitment need is up 54 per cent from 2013, whilst there were 58 per cent fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009.

However, there is no demonstration of a causal link between the skills shortage and construction delays, and the fact that only partial data has published suggests that the LGA may be selecting statistics which support their position.

Cllr Peter Box, LGA Housing Spokesman, said: "These figures conclusively prove that the planning system is not a barrier to house building. In fact the opposite is true, councils are approving almost half a million more houses than are being built, and this gap is increasing."

Clearly this is incorrect.

He goes on to say: "Skills is the greatest barrier to building, not planning... councils must be given a leading role to tackle our growing construction skills shortage, which the industry says is one of the greatest barriers to building. Devolving careers advice, post-16 and adult skills budgets and powers to local areas would allow councils, schools, colleges and employers to work together to help unemployed residents and young people develop the vital skills to build."

LGA also called for councils to be given additional powers to charge developers council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires.

John Stewart, Director of Economic Affairs at the Home Builders Federation, said: “The vast majority of the 475,647 homes quoted by the LGA are either on sites where work has already started, or where there is not a fully ‘implementable’ permission and where it is not legal for builders to commence construction… The LGA would be better served working with the industry to find ways to speed up the flow of implementable planning permissions so we can deliver desperately needed new homes, instead of repeatedly publishing misleading data.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Building is already under way on more than half the 475,000 homes granted planning permission”