UK Planning Regulation is Hurting the Poorest

The state of the housing market in Britain has gone well beyond a joke.

Recently it was revealed that there are on average “eleven house-hunters for every home on the market”. House prices have skyrocketed in recent years, far outpacing both inflation and the equivalent cost of rental accommodation.

It almost doesn’t need stating at this stage that the majority of young people stand next to no chance of acquiring their own home in anything like a reasonable timescale.

But housing figures are only one of the areas affected by overbearing planning regulation. The state of unemployment in this country also owes a lot to this problem.

Britain’s planning system was radically overhauled under Clement Attlee’s postwar reforms in 1948. This famously created the green belts around major cities, constraining the land supply and driving up prices over the long term, as many have indicated. But this really only affects a relatively small amount of the country’s total available development land.

What’s more of a barrier to both residential and employment construction is the sheer cost and difficulty of getting planning approval.

In today’s market, ‘viability’ is very much a key word in planning decisions. Speculative ventures like low-cost residential blocks and mixed use office developments are by their very nature a gamble for developers, often riding a thin line between viability and impracticality.

Viability is the argument typically thrown up by developers when challenged on why they haven’t met their Section 106 obligations under the The Town and Country Planning Regulations 1992. These regulations require funding to go towards a huge range of services, from public transport and landscape maintenance to sports facilities and public art works.

Recent reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework and other regulations under the coalition and Conservative governments have put more pressure on local authorities to approve developments, especially where they are short of their required five-year housing supply, even when the expected S106 contributions are not being met.

But Section 106 obligations are only one example of the regulatory hurdles developers face. The volume of reports and documents required for a basic planning application, from ecology surveys to transport assessments to soil contamination reports to no end of other complexities greatly impacts the overall cost of smaller and lower-return schemes.

If the government is serious about the real human consequences of planning regulation, serious about improving access to homes and jobs for the poorest in this country, it needs to completely re-evaluate the way planning control is exercised in Britain.

Until the system is overhauled, simplified and deregulated, the present impasse will continue to prevail, and any future worsening of market conditions will only serve to exacerbate the problem to the detriment of vulnerable people and the country’s economy as a whole.


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