The conditions for building new housing have never been better but the planning process is too slow.
That was the message from panellists at an infrastructure development conference last week, who warned that government housing targets will not be met without reform to the planning system.
They called on planning officials to “stop procrastinating” and deal with applications for planning permission quickly.
Harvey Griffiths, Chief Executive at Housing Infrastructure Fund, said there has never been such a promising time for housing development – there is record planning approval and new builds, record low interest rates, good demand, and a stable inflation rate. He stressed that the funding for housebuilding is there, but the process needs to speed up and planning officers needed to “stop procrastinating.”
Discussing why government housing targets are not being met, Mary Parsons, Group Director at Places for People, argued the planning application process needed to be speeded up as things were moving too slowly. She said the public and private sector needed to work together and be innovative in order to get funding into action.
This was during a conference in Milton Keynes on Thursday to discuss development of the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge corridor - the arc of land between the three cities. Topics included industrial strategy, the skills shortage, housing and infrastructure. Panels of experts discussed issues and then took questions from the audience.
In the Housing talk, other panellists included Julia Foster, Managing Partner at David Lock Associates; Adrian Brown, Managing Director at Berkeley Strategic; Richard Harrington, Chief Executive at Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP; and Paul Kitson, General Manager at South East at Homes England.
The panellists agreed that the corridor would reach its full potential only if more affordable housing was built there. Brown added that the focus should not be on the plans and sites, but the tangible outcomes such as jobs generated by new developments. Harrington called upon local authorities to become more involved in new developments and to invest in them, and Kitson agreed, stating the planning sector needed more support from the government.
Panellists in the Skills talk discussed ways to get young people interested in the construction industry. Julie Mills, Principal and Chief Executive at Milton Keynes College, said there is a need to inspire students and show them the range of jobs within the industry which are not just trade based but also include aspects like design and analytics. She said the average salary in the industry is £44,000 per annum, and that should be emphasised to young people as it is attractive. Panellists agreed that efforts should be made to encourage young girls into STEM and show them role models in the industry who can demonstrate to them the impact their work can have.
Work experience was also agreed to be vital, and panellists said it should start in primary school and continue through college and university so young people can develop their skills and a keenness for the industry. They said they hoped this would help mitigate the impact of Brexit on the skills shortage in the UK.