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Homes target risks being missed due to planning and local politics

Panel of industry experts identify lack of engagement with councils and brownfield risk as key hurdles

The Government’s aspirations to build three million new homes by 2020 will fail unless steps are taken to sort out planning, according to the country’s leading house builders.

Some of the key names in UK housing were brought together by Construction News to discuss the challenges facing Gordon Brown’s plan to deliver 240,000 units a year by 2016.

The panel identified local politics and resources given to planning departments as the key issues that stand in the way of the Prime Minister’s plans.

Peter Andrew, land and planning director at Taylor Wimpey, the UK’s largest house builder, said projects hit problems despite the efforts firms such as his make to meet the demands of the planning system.

He said: “You can engage with communities, do all of the right consultations and yet the decision comes down to a little bit of local politics.

“That to me is not the planning process working in the right way. I think we need to work with local authorities to reduce that incidence.”

Roger Lewis, group consultant and former chairman of Berkeley Group, said the issue cut to the heart of whether projects were viable or not, and required local authorities to work more closely with industry.

He said: “You are having to buy sites unconditionally, taking all of the risks and paying big money. It is very difficult to bottom out the risk without a better engagement with the local authorities.”

But Mr Lewis added that council planning departments were also stretched to breaking point by the extra responsibilities loaded upon them.

He said: “We are not just asking them to do planning, we are asking them to do all of the Section 106 agreements and the social infrastructure needs.

“Then we are asking them to look at affordable housing and the negotiations on that.

“Now we are asking them to become the leaders for the local authority on sustainability and throwing in the community infrastructure charge as well.”

Former construction minister and honorary chair of the All Party Urban Development Group Nick Raynsford MP said the new Homes and Communities Agency would have a key role in ensuring that sufficient planners were trained to deal with demand.

But he rebutted claims that the influence of local politics on planning should be reduced.

He said: “Councils are not just machines to grant planning permission. They do have to have democratic accountability.”

For a video of the roundtable debate click here

For indepth coverage of the debate , Doing the Job on eco homes and all the latest housing news and opinion visit the CN plus Housing

Analysis: A market defined by volatility

By Bill Fishlock

Buyers of new homes might be thin on the ground but there is no shortage of investors willing to take a punt on house builders’ shares.

The sector has become one of the stock market’s most volatile. Bellway’s warning last week that a lack of consumer confidence was hitting demand sent shares plunging in the sector with Barratt down by six per cent.

By Friday, a more upbeat statement from London-oriented Berkeley Group and hopes of further rate cuts triggered a sector rally, with Taylor Wimpey up 7.6 per cent in a day.

Yet the trend remains grim. Having lost 63 per cent of its value since its February peak, Barratt is set to drop out of the FTSE 100. Taylor Wimpey may follow suit. Even if rates fall, the fear is that the credit crunch will mean mortgages are more expensive and harder to come by, leaving volume house builders among the biggest casualties.