Planning reform a ‘golden opportunity’ for public and private sector to tackle housing shortage



Neil Collar, head of Brodies’ Planning Group
Neil Collar, head of Brodies’ Planning Group

The Scottish Government’s ongoing consultation on the future of planning in Scotland presents a ‘golden opportunity’ for the private and public sectors to work in partnership to tackle the shortage of new homes, a housebuilding conference hosted by Brodies LLP heard.

A new era of collaboration is required to tackle delays in decision-making and bring clarity on the provision of infrastructure to support new developments, delegates were told.

The housebuilding conference in Edinburgh, which was attended by 180 delegates, coincided with the publication of a survey of leading figures in the sector which showed that delays to planning consent and infrastructure costs are regarded as the biggest barriers to building new homes. Of the housebuilders, developers, contractors, architects, professional advisers and funders surveyed, 41.6 per cent cited delays in consenting as the biggest problem, with infrastructure costs, such as the provision of road links and utilities, cited by 32 per cent.

It has been estimated that some 23,000 new homes will need to be built in each year to keep up with the growing number of households in Scotland, however only 15,500 homes were built in 2014. This figure is 40 per cent lower than prior to the recession. However, with the Scottish Government having announced a £50 million infrastructure fund this week, and with a review of the planning system currently underway, there was confidence among delegates at the conference that the industry could grow to meet pre-recession levels in the next few years.

Speaking at the conference, Andrew Mickel, chairman of the housebuilding division of Mactaggart & Mickel, agreed that reform of the planning system to speed up decision-making and greater clarity on the funding of infrastructure packages were the sector’s most pressing concerns. He added that a 10 per cent increase in new builds year-on-year was achievable and would return Scotland to pre-recession construction levels within four years.

“With the completions that have recently been announced by some developers, I think it shows that it would be achievable to get back to pre-recession levels of housebuilding within a relatively short time-frame,” he said.

“There is a need for reform of the planning system. Greater efficiency and speed of processing of applications would be a big help for the industry as a whole. Getting everyone to understand that developers need to have a managed and reasonable payment profile would also be hugely beneficial.

“It’s very welcome to see that the Scottish Government has clearly recognised that there is an issue with regards to infrastructure funding, and I hope that (last) week’s announcement is the start of more money to come, as £50 million will disappear very quickly.”

Neil Collar, head of Brodies’ Planning Group, welcomed the focus on delivery in recent draft planning advice issued by the Scottish Government on Housing and Infrastructure.

Alasdair Fleming, co-head of Brodies’ Housebuilding Group, added: “Historically, this country has been led out of every recession in modern times by an increase in activity in the housebuilding sector.  With the recession now behind us, we must aim to capitalise on the potential for economic growth which a strong housebuilding industry will bring, something that Andrew highlighted at the conference. To do so, we must meet head on, and as a matter of urgency, the very real issues in relation to the planning function and the funding of infrastructure costs.”



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