A recent survey of local government planning committee members has revealed that a significant 61% of councillors consider that the housing crisis is getting worse, with just 8% believing that it was improving.
The survey polled 5,500 planning committee members across England, with 670 councillors responding to questions on a range of issues facing the housebuilding industry.
The figures are worrying, especially as the government and the housebuilding sector are desperately trying to change the negative perceptions regarding the delivery of new homes.
However, for many it isn’t surprisingly that respondents blame developers for the worsening crisis, citing slow build-out rates and questioning the use of viability assessments.
Rebecca Eatwell, managing partner at Newgate Communication who conducted the survey, commented: “Local councillors clearly think that the housing crisis is getting worse and there was a general feeling in the research that developers are a big part of the problem. I think this reflects a wider reputational issue facing the industry at present.” She highlights the fact that the government is looking at landbanking claims in the Letwin Review and fingers being pointed at a lack of affordable housing provision.”
However, Eatwell continued with a sentiment felt by many in the housebuilding sector: “I’d argue it’s time to stop pointing the finger and for local councillors to work with developers to tackle the issue together.”
The survey also highlighted evidence of one of the major concerns often raised by housebuilders; that when they try and consult local communities to ensure their needs and aspirations are addressed these conversations are not encouraged. Indeed, the survey reveals that only 11% of committee members were actively encouraged by officers to have conversations with developers on planning applications, with 18% reported being actively discouraged.
Eatwell commented: “We work with many housebuilders and developers that are genuinely trying to create sustainable communities that deliver inclusive growth. The contribution that the housing sector makes to both local communities and the national economy is often overlooked. I’d argue it’s time to stop pointing the finger and for local councillors to work with developers to tackle the issue together.”
The survey also asked respondents to list their priorities as councillors: “Providing affordable homes for future generations” was the top concern for more than two thirds of respondents, followed closely by “Delivering housing numbers, according to the Local Plan”. “Securing an adopted Local Plan” however has fallen down the list of members’ priorities, perhaps reflecting the fact that many more local councils now have Local Plans in place while “Preserving the green belt” was mentioned by just 18%. Regarding housing supply, 33% considered supply to be severely lacking and a further 30% felt that they could do “with a little bit more”. Just 12% thought it was more than sufficient.Looking at where responsibility lies for delivering new homes in sufficient numbers, including being held to account when targets are missed, committee members surveyed perceive their influence and responsibility strictly limited. 63% of respondents agreed that the responsibility for delivering against the target in their Local Plan fell to developers with planning committees and officers scoring a very low 13% and 14% respectively. In their comments on this question, respondents frequently criticised land banking and noted their inability to act against it.
Eatwell concluded: “There’s always been tension between councillors and housebuilders - asking members to speak up for development when their residents are implacably opposed is a hard ask. But that’s more about principle. What we are now seeing are attacks on the way the industry conducts its business and it’s a view that has only been strengthened by recent government statements. The sector needs to get better at its PR and, frankly, to start educating our politicians. The scale of investment in communities is huge - often delivering what government seems unable to - but when the pressure is on councils to deliver, developers are an easy target.”