15 August 2016
Almost a quarter of a million applications have not been processed on time since 2010, with planning departments reducing staff numbers, freedom of information requests show.
Despite repeated government pledges to liberalise planning laws, the proportion of major applications approved has fallen between 2010 and 2015.
Fewer than 120,000 new homes were built last year, well short of the 250,000 that most experts say are needed to tackle the housing crisis. Developers say that delays are curtailing their ability to meet the demand for homes.
Gavin Sherman, from Linea Homes, which specialises in regenerating derelict sites, said that his business was suffering delays even when applications were sent with the correct paperwork and were “policy compliant”.
“Local authorities are so under resourced that they simply can’t acknowledge and administer the number of applications they are receiving,” he said. “Some officers only work two days a week which makes it impossible for them to deal with the workload they are given. We are not the only developer experiencing severe delays.”
Freedom of information requests to every council in Britain found that a third of major applications, which include large housing and commercial developments, have suffered delays over the past five years, with some councils only managing to process one in three applications within the statutory three-month time limit.
Homeowners and smaller developers have also suffered delays, with more than a quarter of minor applications, which include developments of fewer than ten homes and extensions, waiting longer than two months.
Not a single council has processed every application on time, while one in 16 is failing to process half on time.
Delays to minor applications were up 16 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Over the same period councils have shed 10 per cent of their planning workforce, equivalent to 1,200 jobs. Brighton and Hove city council, which has cut its planning staff by a third, is now processing less than a third of minor applications on time compared with three quarters five years ago.
However, the link between the number of staff and the speed of applications is not straightforward. Wigan borough council, for example, has lost 48 planning staff since 2010 but has managed to improve the proportion of major applications processed on time from 55 per cent to 83 per cent.
Many councils appear to have shifted resources from minor to major applications, forcing smaller developers and homeowners to wait longer so as to speed up big commercial projects.
Rico Wojtulewicz, from the National Federation of Builders, which represents local builders, said: “Councils overlook smaller builders. They don’t push through applications of less than ten houses even though these are the developments that can been done quickly to increase the number of homes. Larger projects can take years to deliver. Local builders used to make two thirds of homes — now we only build a quarter, and delays don’t help.”
The Local Government Association denied that planning delays were the main barrier to building new homes.
A spokesman said: “Hundreds of thousands of homes given planning permission are yet to be built.
“However, we want to do more and developers and councils have repeatedly called on government to resolve the underfunding of planning. Government limited the planning fees councils can charge, which impacts on services and means council tax payers have had to subsidise planning applications by £450 million over the last three years.
“Developers are increasingly willing to pay more, and fees need to be set locally so that they cover costs”.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said that more than a quarter of a million new homes received planning permission last year.
A spokesman added: “We are getting Britain building again, with almost 900,000 homes delivered since the end of 2009. Now our plans to allow councils to introduce competition into the planning system will help speed up the process and bring a renewed focus to our efforts to build more homes. But the new local government secretary accepts we need to do more. That’s why housing will be a priority.”
Homeowners and developers face a planning lottery with some councils twice as likely to approve an application as others in 2015.
Many local authorities have also got tougher over the past five years despite pledges to make planning easier.
There is a north-south divide, with some in the south refusing more than half of applications while others in the north approve every major project.
Waverley borough council in Surrey approved the lowest proportion of major applications last year at 41 per cent, down from 80 per cent in 2010. Carlisle council approved every major application.
Councils near each other also have different approaches. Worcester council approved every major development last year but Stroud turned down a third.
There are also huge variations in the likelihood of extensions being approved.
In Amber Valley 97 per cent were given the green light but in Maldon only 59 per cent succeeded.