Small housing developers bemoan ‘hit or miss’ approach to planning approvals

Home building stockSmall housing developers in Scotland perceive a very high degree of uncertainty in whether permission for small developments will be granted, new research has found.

A study by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) found that its members regularly use phrases like “lottery” and “hit or miss” to describe the development management process, while concerns were also raised over a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the application process.

The findings form part of UK-wide research produced by the FMB and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) which reveals some of the barriers to developing small sites and makes a set of practical recommendations on how local authorities and SME builders can work together to overcome these.

Among other findings, the surveys found that:

  • 64 per cent of builders and 45 per cent of local authorities see under-resourcing of planning departments as a barrier to developing more small sites
  • 87 per cent of local authority respondents said that they did not think the government would reach its housing targets with current resourcing levels.
  • More than half of councils deliver fewer than 40 per cent of homes on small sites
  • 79 per cent of SME builders think the planning application for small sites is ‘too heavy-handed’
  • 55 per cent of local authority respondents said that the quality of planning applications for small sites is often poor
  • 80 per cent of SME builders said that local authorities in their area do not proactively communicate or engage with them
  • infographic831x509The report makes a number of key recommendations, including:

    • Councils should improve their strategic engagement with SME house builders, including where possible by establishing developer forums, online portals and workshops.
    • Councils should seek to reduce complexity and uncertainty in the application process, through the use of coordinating codes, and better early engagement.
    • Central government should give councils the power to set and vary planning fees locally where extra revenue can be ring-fenced and good service levels guaranteed.
    • Central government should consider establishing a pilot ‘Small Sites Expert Task Force’ to develop best practice and act as a source of expert advice on small sites.
    • Councils should use their land assets creatively, including giving consideration to the use of direct commissioning, joint ventures and deferred payment models.
    • Councils should seek to broker, where feasible, relationships between small builders and private landowners.
    • The Scottish Government recently published the findings of a survey of small developers in Scotland which suggest that access to finance remains the severest barrier to growth, but it also picks up concerns about planning, and some concerns over land availability, though less so in more rural areas.

      The report further notes that respondents recognise value in engaging more openly with local government; a common theme that has emerged in the course of the FMB’s research.

      The FMB said: “Analysis of evidence to the Scottish Government’s ongoing review of planning also highlights concern over insufficient allocation of smaller sites. If there is a desire to boost the small scale house building sector in Scotland, then working out how to address this, and how to reduce the uncertainty of bringing small, non-allocated sites forward, would be a productive focus for further work by the Scottish Government and Scottish local government.”

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