From Richard Grey in the Telegraph
Figures compiled from the UK’s leading house builders have revealed that they have enough land to build 617,724 homes. Less than half of this land has been granted any kind of planning permission.
The figures have sparked fears among countryside campaigners that changes to the planning regulations proposed by the Government will allow a housing boom in the face of local objections – and that some of it could be on green belt land.
Under the Draft National Planning Policy Framework, the current planning rules will be changed so that applications will be treated with a “presumption for consent”, meaning applications will be automatically granted if they meet certain criteria.
The new rules require councils to have local plans for building in their area and if applications fit with these they will be granted permission.
Local authorities with no plans or outdated plans could also be forced to grant permission to applications….
Last night, Peter Nixon, director of conservation at the National Trust, said: “There could be a race against time to push through planning proposals before local authorities have the chance to establish local plans.
“The NPPF, in its current guise, loads the dice firmly in favour of the developer, rather than taking the approach we advocate in deciding whether development works for people, the environment, as well as the economy.”
The NPPF is intended to streamline complicated planning rules by reducing more than 1,300 pages of national policy to just 52 pages.
Analysis of the number of homes being built by the same developers has revealed that the gap between the number of completed properties and the amount of land stored in their “land banks” has grown to the highest level since 1998.
Now figures taken from the UK’s 11 largest housing developers have revealed that they are sitting on land that has no planning permission – the equivalent of 335,731 homes.
Bovis, one of the country’s biggest developers, said in its annual report that “as visibility over the effects of the changes to the planning environment improves, the group intends to increase its investment in strategic land”.
Taylor Wimpey bought nearly 5,000 more plots for its strategic land bank in 2010 compared with 2009.
Separate data released last week shows that planning permission approvals have fallen to the lowest level since the start of 2009, which the Home Builders Federation suggest is due to the uncertainty that has been surrounding the proposed policy.
A spokesman for the HBF, which represents housing developers, insisted developers were not collecting land banks in expectation of the changes in the planning laws.
He said: “We have had a policy vacuum since the election that has seen housing output fall to record levels – last year saw fewest homes built since 1923.
“There is now more confidence, both in the economy and in the planning system than there was 18 months ago, and so there will be an increase in the amount of land purchased.
“Builders need a supply of land to keep their businesses running – the alternative being to shrink their business.”
My take. Housebuilders even 18 months ago were running down their landbanks in the face of the recession. Selling large parts off to smaller developers. In the current climate they are in the market again. Landbanks of housing at all stages of the planning process have been too low, falling to under 300,000 at one point, just over a years supply. As I stated here a reasonable level is three years supply, about 750,000. The new evidence suggests that speculative landbanks have dramatically increased.
The problem is not the size of the landbanks, they had to recover if we were not to see a further housing crisis and slowing of recovery when the recession ended, Rather the issue is the kind and type of sites added to them.
If the expanded landbanks were all on good sites there would be no issue. But the feedback ive been getting is much of the activity has been on sites that would never in a months of Sundays get consent. For example a town might need say 600 houses over 15 years to meet requirements. But there are options and SHLAA submissions around that town for two or three times that amount, the owners of which are all in a race to get their sites in first in the post NPPF world. Adding up all the speculative sites can create a misleading picture.
It is the plum sites around the pretty market towns and nicer commuter villages that are being targetted. Of course much of the housing need rests in larger towns. But many marginal brownfield sites are now being left till the future in favour of the prospect of getting many more green field consents. Once 5 year (+1 under the NPPF) supplies are restored in local planning authorities, whether by appeal, consent or local plan, attention may turn back to developers to the more profitable brownfield sites. An odd reversal. Rather than brownfield first it has become greenfield first.