Changes have benefitted the land use planning approval processes in recent years. But it still is slow, and many ideas are afloat on how to make it move faster.
As is well understood, the United Kingdom is in desperate need of more homes. By some estimates, the country is currently short of one million residences that should exist to properly house the country’s growing population.
There are many reasons believed to cause this shortage and the shortfall in construction over the past decade. Some say it goes back to Thatcherism and the sell-off of council housing beginning in the 1980s. For others, the financial crisis and stringent lending has cast a chill over development. But a near-universally held belief is that the country’s planning system, established in the 1940s and one that favours the retention of Greenfields, is at least partially at fault.
Reforms to the planning system have been rather robust in the past few years. While managers of land investment funds have endeavoured to marshal private investors to work with local planning authorities to build homes, the Government has implemented important reforms to enable faster delivery of new build homes.
Most recently, the Help to Buy scheme has made financing for buyers more possible, producing a noticeable uptick in qualified buyers in 2014. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has proposed a parallel “help to build” programme that would assist smaller and medium-sized builders to gain access to financing, an area of advantage currently held by bigger homebuilders.
Parliament passed the Localism Act 2011 to enable local authorities to implement planning policies free of regional and national controls, which was further reinforced with the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012. This is the means by which planning can occur according to distinctive local and neighbourhood needs. NPPF places a mandate on local planning authorities (LPAs) to develop five-year growth plans, which presumably would streamline the process; however, only about half of local councils have developed such plans as of mid-2014.
And yet, the criticism remains that the planning process is a bottleneck that slows the home building process. This is by design, of course, intended to ensure that development respects historical and environmental needs. The planning process may be cumbersome, but with the private sector (property fund partners, for example) endeavouring to satisfy the pent-up demand for housing, most avenues are being pursued.
Individuals who wish to invest in housing development need to understand the risks, including what happens when a planning change is necessary to build. Single investors should work with others who understand the market and the predispositions of LPAs toward land use changes. And prior to choosing a fund, speak with an independent financial advisor to discuss the expectations of real estate in relation to your overall investment portfolio.