Survey highlights need for collaboration to tackle housing shortage

Tracey Menzies
Tracey Menzies

Delays to planning consent are the most significant barrier to building new homes, according to a survey of the housebuilding sector conducted by law firm Brodies LLP.

The survey highlights the need for greater collaboration between policymakers, planners, developers and financiers to tackle the shortage of housing stock in Scotland.

Brodies canvassed the opinions of 120 senior figures across the sector - representing housebuilders, developers, contractors, architects, professional advisers and funders - on the most significant barriers they had faced in building new homes in Scotland over the past year.

The length of time taken to secure planning approval was cited by almost half of respondents (47.5 per cent) as the biggest issue, with many (37 per cent) predicting it would continue to be the single largest problem over the coming year. Infrastructure constraints/costs and access to development finance were cited by 20 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

It has been estimated that some 23,000 new homes will need to be built in each year to keep up with the growing number of households in Scotland. Asked which single measure would most help them meet rising demand for new homes, the relaxation of planning restrictions was cited by 37.5 per cent of respondents, followed by public funding of new infrastructure (31.5 per cent) and public sector initiatives, such as Help to Buy and the National Housing Trust initiative (22 per cent).

On the question of which Scottish Government policy would have the most positive impact on the housebuilding sector, 34.5 per cent of those who took part in the survey pointed to more funding for Help to Buy-type initiatives, 31 per cent said relaxing Section 75/infrastructure requirements and 15 per cent cited the provision of housebuilding finance to developers.

There has been significant growth in the UK’s private rented sector (PRS) in recent years, prompting estimates that PRS will account for up to a fifth of the total housing stock by 2020. Almost half of the respondents said they were actively considering, or would consider, developing the PRS in Scotland.

Commenting on the findings, Tracey Menzies and Alasdair Fleming, who head Brodies’ Housebuilding Group, said they hoped the survey’s findings would inform discussions between developers, advisers, funders and policy-makers with a view to overcoming the current challenges and devising new ways to help Scotland tackle the shortage of new homes.

Tracey said: “This survey provides an opportunity for policymakers to engage with leading organisations and individuals in the sector to address the issues that have been highlighted, and hopefully come up with new ways to meet the demand for housing in Scotland.

“The housebuilding industry is hugely important to our economy, providing vital infrastructure, creating jobs and stimulating investment. It is imperative that we listen to those in the sector, address concerns about the current system and devise new ways to tackle the shortage of new homes in Scotland, such as through the expansion of the private rented sector.”

Alasdair added: “While more than half of respondents highlighted delays to planning consents as the biggest barrier to building new homes, funding for infrastructure was also cited as a major concern. We will be working together with organisations in the sector and lenders to develop new funding models. Infrastructure delivery should facilitate housebuilding, rather than hinder or prevent its progress as it does at present.”

Neil Collar, head of planning at Brodies, who earlier this year published a white paper setting out his vision for planning reform in Scotland, said: “This survey shows just how vital the planning system is to the delivery of new housing - developers across the country are experiencing delays in consenting and this is proving to be a significant hurdle. The findings chime with my recommendations earlier this year that the system for costing infrastructure upgrades needs to be speeded up; the amount of information required to obtain approval needs to be reduced; and the planning system needs leadership and proper resourcing.”

Nicola Barclay, the director of planning at Homes for Scotland, said the survey’s findings reflected the concerns that were being expressed by members of her organisation.

“We note with interest that delays in getting planning consents and constraints surrounding infrastructure delivery are given as being the two primary barriers to the building of much needed homes as this very much mirrors what our members are telling us,” she said. “We are already working closely with the Scottish Government on both of these matters as well as a replacement for the Help to Buy shared equity scheme, which is identified as the action likely to have most positive industry impact. Only through such collaboration with government at all levels will we be able to develop the tools home builders need to facilitate the sustainable economic growth that this country requires.”

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