Suspend local housebuilding targets, councils urge government

A house being built.

District councils have urged government to suspend local housebuilding targets to account for COVID-19’s impact on the construction of new homes.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) has warned that a slow-down in housebuilding caused by the coronavirus crisis could lead to councils failing to meet their housing targets, opening the door for speculative developments.

The DCN, which represents 187 district councils in England, has called on the government to support councils by amending existing planning guidelines, namely by suspending requirements such as the five-year land supply and the Housing Delivery Test.

Cllr Mark Crane, leader of Selby District Council and DCN lead member for stronger economies, said: “Councils have serious concerns that they will be unfairly penalised as a result of house-building slowing down because of the coronavirus crisis.

“The loss of new homes built will have a significant impact on the five-year land supply, which without protection would allow developers to bypass local community wishes.

“We need the government to focus on achieving delivery of house-building on allocated sites and avoid the corrosive effects of speculative development where communities don’t have a say.”

The call comes as a new survey carried out by the DCN found that over half of responding councils are concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on their five-year land supply.

The network says that failure to have a land supply could lead to local planning policies overridden, with developments previously refused by local residents being able to proceed on appeal.

62% of responding councils also expressed fears that they would not meet the government’s Housing Delivery Test, again leaving new developments subject to national planning policies.

The DCN has called for the current planning guidelines to be changed so as not to unfairly penalise councils ahead of the government’s expected publication of proposed planning reforms this week.

Crane added: “District councils want to play a leading role in the national recovery from the pandemic and building desperately-needed homes again will be a vital part of this. But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and side-line public consultation.

“This is why we need the government to step in and suspend the five-year land supply and Housing Delivery Test requirements and devolve the tools for councils to invest in the infrastructure and building that will create jobs and homes.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said the government is aware of councils’ concerns but stressed the importance of keeping the planning system ‘moving’ to aid the UK’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

“That’s why we are supporting local authorities through measures in the Business and Planning Act, such as allowing more flexible working hours of construction sites and extending the duration of certain planning permissions to ensure that they don’t lapse unnecessarily as a result of disruption caused by the pandemic,” they said.

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