Number of unbuilt homes with planning permission hits record high

The number of unbuilt homes in England with planning permission already in place has reached a record high, according to new research.

The study, conducted by Glenigan for the Local Government Association, found that 475,647 homes have already been given permission but have yet to be built, a backlog that has grown over recent years.

The research arrives as the UK government continues its plans to reform the country’s planning laws, making it easier to build on greenbelt land, alongside controversial other changes.

The LGA, though, argues that the findings “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,” says Cllr Peter Box, LGA Housing spokesman.

Developers are taking longer to complete work on site, according to the LGA. 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 industry is being help in part by a skills shortage that needs to be addressed, adds the LGA.

“While the construction industry’s forecasted annual recruitment need is up 54 per cent from 2013, there are 10,000 fewer construction qualifications being awarded by colleges, apprenticeships and universities,” adds the study, while there were 58 per cent fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009.

Charging Council Tax on unbuilt developments, though, could deter smaller house builders, the Federation of Master Builders warns.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, says: “The imposition of Council Tax on unbuilt homes could increase the risks of bringing forward new developments by small house builders. The measure could deliver the opposite of what it hopes to achieve by reducing the number of smaller housing developments. SMEs already face serious challenges in terms of access to finance and scarcity of small sites. For small house builders to be liable for Council Tax on properties which can’t be built would add yet another layer of risk and act as a further deterrent to smaller developers. It is already commonplace for local authorities to start charging council tax on homes that are incomplete – sometimes before even the basics, such as plastering, have been finished. It seems there’s now a danger of Council Tax being charged if you do build and also charged if you can’t build. That can’t be right.”

The debate arises in the wake of the government’s announcement on Monday 4th January that it would fund building directly in an attempt to encourage smaller builders to become more active, releasing smaller parcels of land for development.