Planning Changes for the Construction Industry
The UK’s largest fabricator of specialist bricks, Michelmersh Brick Holdings has revealed that a reduction in construction activity caused by a planning logjam has decreased the demand for bricks for housebuilding. According to the company’s Chief Executive, Martin Warner, the general election in May followed by increases in stamp duty has resulted in several project being put on hold but that most delays are actually caused by the planning process. The company supplies specialist bricks to match the original Victorian brickwork on renovation projects.
Apparently, Britain has seen a shortage of bricks over the past two years as an increase in housebuilding activities used up all the bricks stockpiled during the last downturn in construction activities that followed the economic crisis. Then a shortage of both bricks and bricklayers threatened to derail the government’s proposed housebuilding activity.
Demand for both bricks and building work is expected to pick up again after the first quarter of 2016 when projects are set to receive planning approval and plans that were put on hold before the election are likely to come back into play. The government is committed to take a more relaxed attitude to planning requirements in order to kick start the construction of the 200,000 starter homes being built each year. David Cameron said in his party conference speech that he intends to scrap the rules that require developers to build affordable homes for rent.
While the proposal to relax the planning system has been welcomed by developers, some local communities are fighting unwanted development. Despite the government’s manifesto commitment to promote localism, the Conservatives are now facing accusations that plans to force local authorities to accept development of brownfield sites amounts to an increase in centralisation of the planning system.
The construction industry as a whole has welcomed the government’s plans which include:
- Major infrastructure projects that include elements of housing to be fast tracked through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure process which means that the project won’t need to go through full democratic consultation.
- A package that will support SME housebuilder companies which will contain sanctions for local authorities that do not process smaller planning applications on time.
- A plan to end the need for planning permission for upward extensions for a limited number of storeys in the capital.
- A plan for the government to have the power to intervene and have local plans drafted to set out how housing requirements will be met when local authorities fail to produce them.
- Penalties for local authorities that make 50% or fewer planning decisions on time.
- A zonal system (as used in many other countries) giving automatic planning permission on all suitable brownfield sites in a bid to remove unnecessary delays in the redevelopment process.
- Enhanced compulsory purchase powers to develop more brownfield sites and the devolution of planning powers to the mayors of both London and Manchester.
While many of these proposals could seem attractive to the construction industry, some are likely to meet strong opposition from the people so we’re looking at interesting times ahead of us as the government attempts to boost both the construction industry and the economy in general.