UK Politics

Planning permission for new homes 'hits five-year low'

Image caption Campaigners fear government planning changes put the countryside at risk

A drop in the number of homes getting planning permission in England shows why the government must "stand firm" on its planning overhaul, say developers.

Figures compiled for the Home Builders' Federation suggest that approvals for homes in developments of 10 or more have hit a five-year low of 115,412.

A controversial shake-up of planning in England will be published soon.

The National Trust said the figures did not make clear how many planning applications were submitted overall.

"It could be 100% of applications have been approved and the number of applications might have gone down," a spokeswoman said.

"And there is no mention of the 300,000 approvals existing for houses that still haven't been built."

The government is expected to publish its redrafted proposals for the planning system shortly.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, said figures compiled by consultancy Glenigan demonstrated the need for change.

'Downward trend'

Its report says that the number of properties in developments of at least 10 homes getting planning permission in England in 2011 came to 115,412. It is the lowest figure since the report began in 2006 and a 14% drop on the 134,143 developments approved in 2010.

The biggest drop was in the north of England, which had seen the biggest rise in approvals in 2010 - approvals fell from 33,714 that year to 27,137 in 2011. But approvals rose by 2% in the Midlands.

The report also notes that approvals of social housing schemes across Britain had "been on an erratic, downward trend since the general election".

Mr Baseley said: "This is a stark reminder as to why government must stand firm and deliver a robust and adequate planning system.

"Government has recently unveiled some very positive measures aimed at boosting housing supply, particularly the NewBuy scheme, but they cannot succeed unless we have a truly pro-growth, functioning planning system. The new system must provide enough viable land to build the number of homes the country needs."

Planning protests

James Abraham of Glenigan, which compiled the report, told the Financial Times "a large part" of the fall in approvals was because of wider issues like the squeeze on credit.

A spokesman for the HBF said the group accepted that the "housing crisis" of the past few years had been caused, in the short term, by the economic downturn - but said planning rules were a long-term problem.

The government'sdraft National Planning Policy Frameworkprovoked angry protests from groups including the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who are concerned that it could lead to a return to urban sprawl.

Ministers have cut more than 1,000 pages of regulations down to just 52 to overcome planning delays which they claim cost the economy £3bn a year.

At the heart of the changes is a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" which ministers say will boost housebuilding and economic growth while not harming communities and the environment.

This includes a default "yes" that gives the go-ahead to development unless the adverse effects "significantly and demonstrably" outweigh the benefits.

National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins told MPs last year that the plan effectively gave a "green light" to any kind of development, including in rural areas.

And the Commons communities and local government committee has warned that the changes risk favouring "unsustainable development".

The draft NPPF was put out to public consultation last October and the government is still considering responses - it says it will publish its final version by the end of March.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said that when the coalition came to power in May 2010, housebuilding had "plummeted to the lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s". Since then "housing starts" - the number of properties on which construction work has started - were up 22%.

But he said more could be done to increase housing supply and make the planning system "less bureaucratic".

"No-one disagrees with the need to make the planning system easier to understand - it is over-complex, unresponsive, slow and cost the economy up to £3bn a year. Government reforms will put power into the hands of local communities to deliver the sustainable development they need for the future while protecting the environment and green spaces."

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