The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government does not yet know how it will reach the government’s target of seeing 300,000 homes a year built in England, its permanent secretary has admitted.
Appearing before the Commons’ public accounts committee on Monday Melanie Dawes admitted achieving that number was “very ambitious”.
The National Audit Office has found that MHCLG will need to oversee a 69% increase on the 177,000 homes built annually on average since 2005-06. The number of new homes being built per year has never exceeded 224,000 in the last decade.
Ms Dawes said: “We’ve never done it before in this country. Market commentators would say you can see how 250,000 is within reach, we can see that today, it’s the increase beyond that where we need to effectively grow a new market.
“We need to get the private rented sector behind this, grow different roles for housing associations, we need to bring the local authority balance sheet back into the equation as we have done, we need to grow SMEs back into the market. We need more people working in the construction industry.
“So it’s hard to predict exactly how that will come through – at this stage it’s not a forecast, its understanding which levers we need to pull the hardest.”
She said it was too early for an annual “year by year projection” and the ministry needed “building blocks” such as the capital allocations that are expected from this year’s spending review to be put in place.
She added: “We have a set of illustrative projections at this stage which look at different ways of meeting the target.”
The committee, which is holding an inquiry into planning and the broken housing market, also heard that only 44% of councils had an up to date local plan in place in December 2018.
However, Simon Ridley, director general of decentralisation and growth at MHCLG, claimed that a lot of progress has been made on this issue. There are, he says, now only 41 authorities without a local plan, and 30 of those have a plan in with the planning inspectorate. This leaves 11 councils which still have no local plan in place.
Communities secretary James Brokenshire announced in March that MHCLG will publish a green paper on ways to accelerate the planning process.
Mr Ridley said that MHCLG is “working on it as a matter of urgency” and that the hope is to bring it forward “in months – this year”.
Simon Gallagher, MHCLG’s director of planning, said his department had been lacking “real detailed evidence of the gap in where local authority capacity and capability are”, and is now awaiting the results of a recent survey to be aggregated to provide ”the evidence needed to come forward with that green paper - on what the skills shortages are, and whether it is a lack of resources or people [that is impeding the planning process].”