The planning permission process is too slow to meet housebuilding targets, MPs have said, as they urged ministers to publish evidence over promises to build 300,000 homes a year.
The Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee said a combination of “carrots and sticks” was needed to speed up the process, and the Government should set time limits for work to begin on developments once the go-ahead had been given.
In a report released on Thursday the MPs criticised suggested reforms of the planning process and said they were not persuaded that the proposals will produce a cheaper, quicker and more democratic planning system.
They said more information is needed on Government ambitions to build 300,000 homes a year.
The Government committed to the figure before the December 2019 election, with an aim to build at least a million new homes by the end of the current parliament in 2024.
But the committee said this was an “immense challenge” and the last time it was achieved was over six years in the 1960s.
Views were divided over whether the target was realistic. The Adam Smith Institute told the committee 500,000 or a million homes a year were needed, while charity Civic Voice said there was support for the target.
However the committee’s report added: “Other submissions stated that the 300,000 figure was ‘not based on any evidence’ or was ‘arbitrary’.”
Committee chairman Clive Betts said: “The Government’s aim of developing a planning system that enables buildings to be built more quickly and with greater input from local communities is welcome, but it is far from clear how the current proposals will achieve this.
“We also need much more information about the Government’s target to build 300,000 homes every year – as well as the changes to the housing formula announced last December.”
The committee heard evidence from a number of witnesses expressing “scepticism… about the validity of the 300,000 units target”, which the committee report said deserves a “clear answer”.
The report added “there is also scepticism that the target can be delivered” as there would need to be between one and 1.25 million planning permission approvals a year to meet the goal.
The MPs heard evidence from developer Barratt, with group land and planning director Philip Barnes saying the greatest barrier to construction was the planning system.
Estate agent Savills said “on balance we consider the planning system is not the greatest obstacle to delivery of housing in England”, but permissions were not being granted in the right areas to respond to need.
The report said: “The Government should publish the evidential basis for its 300,000 housing units a year target and set out how this target will be achieved, both by tenure and by location.”
Labour MP Mr Betts added: “Of course, planning also has wider impacts beyond housing. There were many issues that weren’t addressed in the Government’s proposals – including how the changes will affect the levelling-up agenda, economic recovery from Covid-19, and the environment.
“We ask for further information, and consultation, on all of these areas.”
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said the conclusions were “speculative” as a consultation on housebuilding was not yet closed.
They said: “As the report rightly identifies, the planning system is in need of improvement and our reforms will mean a quicker, more efficient and less bureaucratic planning system so we can build more much needed homes across the country.
“Local people and high quality design will be at the heart of these changes, while protecting our heritage and green spaces.”
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