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Change planning policy and give the construction industry a chance of survival

When it comes to discussing the long-term prosperity of the housing market and wider construction industry, recent government initiatives such as Help to Buy have sparked a great deal of comment.

The unveiling of the Construction 2025 strategy earlier this year cemented the government’s long-term commitment to working alongside the sector to transform the industry and yet restrictions to planning policy remain at the heart of many projects unable to get off the ground.

Research from Glenigan shows that, in the first nine months of 2012, £1.8 bn of residential planning applications went to appeal. The problem lies with a cumbersome planning regime and unnecessary red tape, which in turn lead to problems around the application process and, significantly, those that are rejected. 

While the new legislative measures and consultations brought in by the coalition government are certainly a step in the right direction, the primary issue is that they only go so far and in many cases act as little more than a political sticking plaster.

If the construction industry is to get back on track, it is crucial that active changes are made to the planning application process. It’s high time that we implemented a streamlined one-stop shop for consents procedures for planning applications, heritage consents and statutory consultations.    

“Restrictions to planning policy remain at the heart of many projects unable to get off the ground”

For starters, providing additional funding and resources for Local Planning Authorities and resources in order to update local plans will financially incentivise LPAs to deal with planning applications within the statutory timeframes. This will get them to work with developers in order to renegotiate onerous section 106 agreements as a result.

Secondly, the statutory requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments and Design and Access Statements should be reduced. The time and monetary costs associated with the work are crippling and a greater awareness of the extent of this issue will inform a more streamlined and effective approach to planning applications.

Furthermore, a far greater amount of development work should be allowed on greenfield sites with that on brownfield sites (which is expensive in every respect and often controversial) relaxed.

The prohibitive costs involved have put some smaller housebuilders out of business with many no longer able to afford to take the risk of getting their plans rejected. It’s high time that a comprehensive planning review took place so that the industry is given every possible opportunity to flourish.

Tracy Hall is head of real estate at law firm Watson Burton.

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