Housing

The planning system is failing to deliver the homes England needs, NAO warns

A National Audit Office report criticises the government’s planning system, warning that some local authorities are underestimating their need as a result

The UK government’s planning system will not be able to deliver the 300,000 homes that Britain needs to build every year, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

The NAO has claimed that several areas of the system are failing, with reforms that were meant to help local authorities determine how many homes should be built leading to underestimates.

The standard method for assessing local housing need is actually reducing the need for new homes in five out of nine regions while 44 per cent of authorities did not have an up-to-date local plan outlining their house-building strategy as of December.

A local area plan is a legal requirement but the NAO report that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has only challenged 15 local authorities for not having an up-to-date plan.

This leaves the door open to developers to build where they please which can lead to infrastructural problems down the line – and no requirement for the department to tie in investment strategies with local plans does not help either.

Spending has also fallen in real terms, with local authorities forking out 15 per cent less in total between 2010-11 and 2017-18. The NAO insist that MHCLG has attempted to deal with a shortage of planning staff in local authorities, for example by funding a bursary scheme, but it does not know the extent of the skills gap as it lacks comprehensive data.

The NAO argues that these flaws will make it difficult for the government to hit their 300,000 homes per year target by the mid-2020s. Over the last 13 years, 177,000 new homes have been built on average, with the 224,000 the most built in one year and 222,000 constructed in 2017-18.

To achieve the goal, there will need to be a 69 per cent increase in the number of new homes, while industry experts have long-since stressed that it must be the right kind of homes too, with social rent dwellings in short supply.

“For many years, the supply of new homes has failed to meet demand,” said Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO. “From the flawed method for assessing the number of homes required, to the failure to ensure developers contribute fairly for infrastructure, it is clear the planning system is not working well. The government needs to take this much more seriously and ensure its new planning policies bring about the change that is needed.”

Housing Minister Kit Malthouse hit back and said: “I recognise the challenges identified by the NAO, and the simple truth is over the last three decades, governments of all stripes have built too few homes of all types.”

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