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Planning myths 'blocking house building supply'

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Myths claiming the planning permission system is difficult and expensive are hampering increases in house building, according to the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Long-standing and factually inaccurate beliefs over the risk and financial cost of obtaining planning permission should be addressed much earlier on in the planning process, a report from the institute said.

RTPI policy officer Tom Kenny told LGC: “There’s a common narrative that the risk of not securing planning permission is stalling housing supply. This was easier to say a few years ago but now there’s been a huge rise in permissions in recent years, so I think that’s a less strong argument.”

A recent survey found councils approved nine out of every 10 planning applications in 2016-17 and increased permissions for new homes by 57% year-on-year.

RTPI researchers conducted a series of interviews with developers and planners to explore their views on risks in the planning process.

“Developers generally base required returns on experience rather than on sophisticated risk modelling,” the report said. ”Any reduction in planning risk will take time to feed through into developer behaviour.”

Researchers also reported that developers felt the “financial cost of risk” was highest before planning permission is obtained, recommending that planners should address developers’ concerns at the “earliest stages” of development.

A government study into the community infrastructure levy and other developer contributions reported in March a “lack of certainty as a hallmark of the system in England”. The study concluded that reasons for planning delay “can be multi-faceted” but were often related to the need for complex negotiation over developers’ viability assessments.

The Local Government Association argues that planning authorities are doing more than ever to increase permissions, placing responsibility for low house-building rates on developers. A study undertaken for the LGA in February found the number of unimplemented planning permissions rose by 16% to 423,544 in 2016-17.

The RTPI report also considers the effect of ‘zoning’ – the US-style practice of designating ‘zones’ for housing or industry. Developers will be able to apply for ‘Permission in Principle’ (PiP) on housing sites identified on brownfield registers from June 2018, a practice that Mr Kenny likened to zoning.

The RTPI found in its report PiP is still not a “silver bullet solution”, citing feedback from developers that it wouldn’t speed up the planning process.

Mr Kenny said: “There are lots of trade off and actually many new risks – PiP could drive up the price of land through increased speculation, ultimately pricing out the average SME builder.”

The report finds that a “genuine step change” in certainty through zoning would “require overturning the fundamental bases of the English planning system”, adding: “Such a revolution is clearly not likely to happen – and were it to be attempted, the short and medium term effects would undoubtedly be to slow development.”

The report’s authors are Claudio De Magalhães, Sonia Freire-Trigo and Nick Gallent of the Bartlett School of Planning at University College London, and Kath Scanlon and Christine Whitehead of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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