THE NUMBER of major housing schemes being given planning consent within minimum approval times has slipped to an all-time low, putting Government plans to develop swathes of land in the south-east in jeopardy.
According to latest Government figures, only 16 per cent of planning applications for developments of over 10 units or more were given the go-ahead within the eightweek target during the last quarter of 2002.
The figures fall well short of the Government's target for local authorities to process 60 per cent of major planning applications within a two-month timeframe.
House builders said inefficiencies in the planning system throw serious question marks over plans unveiled last week by Deputy Prime Minster John Prescott to plough £22 billion into building hundreds of thousands of new homes across England.
Leading firms said the proposals will fall flat unless the planning system is speeded up and local government planning departments are given extra resources to cope with increasing applications.
A Bellway spokesman said: 'Unless changes are made, it's difficult to see how these Government targets will be met.'
A spokesman for the House Builders Federation said: 'It's quite evident that there has to be a great improvement in the planning system irrespective of the investment being made available for widespread regeneration.'
The Government has pledged to invest £5 billion in affordable housing over the next three years, including at least £1 billion for key public sector worker housing.
Four growth areas in the south-east have been targeted to provide an extra 200,000 affordable homes and will be allocated £610 million of public money.
The Thames Gateway will receive the largest chunk at £446 million, with Ashford, the London-Cambridge corridor and the Milton Keynes sub-region sharing the remaining £164 million. The money will fund site assembly, remediation of brownfield land, affordable housing and infrastructure.
sean. barry@construct. emap. com