Councils blame housing backlog on skills shortage not planners

There are nearly half a million homes with planning permission waiting to be built, according to new research.

The Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned Glenigan to produce a number for the house-building industry’s backlog of unbuilt units with planning permission. The result was 475,647.

By comparison, previous studies showed that in 2012/13, the total of unimplemented planning permissions was 381,390 and in 2013/14 it was 443,265.

The LGA said the figures showed that much-maligned council planners were not to blame for the shortage of new housing in the UK. House-builders often cite blockages in the planning system as one of their prime frustrations. However, according to the LGA, the planning permission is there but the builders are slow to move on site – largely because of a skills shortage in the construction industry, it said.

Council leaders want powers to be able to invest in building more homes themselves, and to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires.

The LGA also said that its research showed developers were taking longer to complete work on site. It now takes 32 months, on average, from sites receiving planning permission to building work being completed – 12 months longer than in 2007/8.

The number of planning applications granted planning permission in 2014/15 was a new high of 212,468 – compared to 187,605 in 2007/08 – with councils continuing to approve nine out of every 10 applications.

LGA housing spokesman Peter Box said: “These figures conclusively prove that the planning system is not a barrier to house-building. In fact the opposite is true, councils are approving almost half a million more houses than are being built, and this gap is increasing.

“While private developers have a key role in solving our chronic housing shortage, they cannot build the 230,000 needed each year on their own. To tackle the new homes backlog and to get Britain building again, councils must have the power to invest in building new homes and to force developers to build homes more quickly.

“Skills is the greatest barrier to building, not planning. If we are to see the homes desperately needed across the country built and jobs and apprenticeships created, councils must be given a leading role to tackle our growing construction skills shortage, which the industry says is one of the greatest barriers to building.

“Devolving careers advice, post-16 and adult skills budgets and powers to local areas would allow councils, schools, colleges and employers to work together to help unemployed residents and young people develop the vital skills to build.

“New homes are badly-needed and councils want to get on with the job of building them. If we are to see a genuine end to our housing crisis we have to be given the powers to get on with it.”