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Housebuilders stand up to failing councils

The Home Builders Federation is to challenge councils that drag their feet over providing land for new homes.

The move by the Home Builders Federation will see it question councils’ local plans where it thinks they are using loopholes in the new planning system to thwart housebuilding.

Three planning experts will now work full time to represent builders at planning inspectors’ examinations of plans from all the nearly 330-odd councils in England. Volume housebuilders have financed this initiative.

Inspectors must approve plans before they come into force and the HBF hopes to convince them to reject those that allow for too few new homes.

The HBF said some councils were evading responsibilities under the new National Planning Policy Framework to identify a five year supply of building land.

This included distorting the ‘objective assessments’ of housing demand by taking account of factors such as environmental and heritage constraints.

It also said councils were failing to follow their duty to co-operate with each other to plan development.

This requires, for example, that if a large new employer opens in one council’s area, its neighbours will make land available to house the extra employees involved.

It was introduced when the old regional plans were scrapped but relies solely on voluntary goodwill between councils to work.

Some local authorities also relied “on unviable and non-deliverable development in regeneration areas to bulk out their five year land supplies”, the HBF claimed.

Executive chairman Stewart Baseley said: “This new capacity will enable the industry to be represented at all future local plan inquiries, and ensure we are challenging local authorities that are not making adequate provision for their housing need.

“With power comes responsibility and we want to ensure responsibilities are being met.”

A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said the planning system was “not the key barrier to unlocking activity on construction sites”.

He added: “The rate of building is failing to keep pace with the record amount of planning approvals being signed off by councils.”

The LGA said at one point last year permission had been given for 400,000 homes on which builders had not started and that “at the current rate of construction this backlog is unlikely to be caught up on any time soon”.

It called on the government, banks and developers “to address the lack of finance available to would-be buyers which for the past few years has been holding development back”.

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