Half of housebuilders 'serial appealers' as confidence in planning system plummets

12 December 2017

The UK planning framework is no longer fit for purpose, with a culture of 'planning by appeal' illustrating a lack of belief in the current system, new research suggests.

Insight gathered from 100 UK housebuilders by law firm Gowling WLG reveals that almost two thirds (63%) of those surveyed had appealed a planning decision in the past 18 months, with almost half (45%) being identified as 'serial appealers'. These housebuilders brought more than 30% of rejected applications to appeal.

It seems that for many in the industry, this process of appealing is more efficient than resubmitting an amended application. For those that know how to do so effectively, success rates are particularly high. Housebuilders that have had already had a planning decision overturned on average, see 40% of their rejections reversed on appeal.

The ongoing struggle for planning approval has also impacted the nature of land purchases - on average, 34% of land purchased by housebuilders has pre-existing planning permission. In addition, three quarters (74%) of housebuilders now buy a higher proportion of land with pre-existing planning permission than they did ten years ago.

Vicky Fowler, planning partner at Gowling WLG said:

"This volume of successful appeals is almost certainly caused by an absence, in some areas, of up-to-date local plans. If authorities do not have an up to date local plan and are unable to demonstrate that at least five years' worth of land has been allocated for local housing, then development on sites that could or should have be allocated to this need, are very likely to succeed on appeal if initially rejected. These inefficiencies need to be addressed, and quickly."

Government is now encouraging authorities currently without up to date local plans  - stated as over 40% in February's housing white paper - to set this right. Measures outlined in the Neighbourhood Planning Act (2017) will require each local planning authority to set out policies addressing the strategic land use priorities in their area, as well as identifying housing sites which will deliver at least a five-year housing supply.

If these plans have not been made by April 2018, then under the Act, the Secretary of State has the power to intervene and take the preparation of local plans out of the hands of a single authority or, as a last resort, start this work on behalf of the local authority.

Vicky Fowler adds:

"Planning by appeal is frustratingly inefficient and evidence of a system that requires immediate change. While the introduction of measures to encourage local plans are a step in the right direction, this will increase the need for housebuilders to promote sites that they feel are suitable for development, consulting with councils directly to increase the chances of planning success.

"As the pressure on housebuilders to meet the UK's growing housing need intensifies, more must be done to shield developers from delays in the planning system. Speeding up planning decisions is at the top of the regional devolution 'wish list' for over three quarters of industry decision makers - it's vital that mayors take heed and move to unlock stalled projects in their area. Last week's budget alluded to strengthening the use of the Homes and Communities Agency's (HCA) planning powers, but again, what the industry needs action rather than intention. Government must act now to fast-track reform."

For a full overview of the research conducted with UK housebuilders, including insight on the current challenges and threats facing the industry and expert advice on the implications of upcoming changes to the planning system, see Gowling WLG - Planning 2020.

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