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Housebuilders attack ‘nimby backbenchers’ as planning approvals slump to seven-year low

Housebuilding - Rui Vieira/PA
Housebuilding - Rui Vieira/PA

Planning approvals for homes in England have fallen to a seven-year low according to fresh data which highlight the scale of the country's property crisis.

Around 281,000 properties were granted permission in the year to June 2022, according to figures from the estate agent Savills, significantly below the Government's target of 300,000 a year.

Housebuilders accused ministers and "nimby backbenchers" of failing to tackle barriers to development, saying that red tape and hold-ups in the system were preventing millions of people from getting on the ladder.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said: "The numbers underline the need for the Government to re-engage with industry and address the anti-business and anti-development barriers now threatening future supply."

It can take developers anywhere between one and two years to get planning permission, with significant new hurdles to navigate including nutrient neutrality rules that require companies to show their projects will not pollute water systems by feeding dangerous algae.

Michael Gove retook the post of Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in October and at the time pledged to continue with the Conservative manifesto target to deliver 300,000 homes a year.

However, a vote on local targets on Tuesday was delayed by Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, after dozens of Tory MPs threatened to rebel.

A major housebuilder accused a "bunch of nimby backbenchers [of] trying to derail [delivery] even further and prevent local planning authorities from even having to put in place a plan to house their own populations - which is obviously insane".

The Tory rebels, led by the former environment secretary Theresa Villiers, argued that the Government set-targets are excessive and undermine councils.

Asked about targets in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Gove said: "I’m not saying it's the wrong thing to aim for, it’s just that we’re in a world where very important aims and ambitions we have, have become more difficult to deliver."

Michael Gove - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Michael Gove - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Mr Gove has previously referred to developers as a "cartel" and accused them of building "ugly homes".

Another major housebuilder said that the conversation between the government and developers was much stronger when Simon Clarke was in charge of the department earlier this year.

On Wednesday, in a tweet, Mr Clarke said: "If you want to see what the future of the Conservatives is when we don’t build homes, look at London.

"Our collapsing vote in the capital is at least in part because you can’t make the case for popular Conservatism if you can’t afford to buy, or even rent."

The low level of planning approvals and the fallout from Liz Truss’s tax cutting mini-Budget, which resulted in soaring mortgage rates and a decline in affordability, is expected to have a lasting impact on the industry.

Several housebuilders including Redrow, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey have said the number of buyers pulling out of deals has increased by more than 50pc, and analysts at Berenberg have cut pre-tax profit forecasts for the industry by an average of 40pc.

Savills has also warned of a housing slowdown as a "challenging economic environment, an increase in build costs and a fall in all residential transactions next year will limit the number of homes that can be delivered".

Hamish Simmie, a Savills analyst, said: "A reduction in the number of planning consents will further restrict new build delivery. A lack of clarity around planning policy is slowing the progress of Local Plans, which will disrupt the sector even further in the coming years."

A spokesman for the housing department said: "Annual housing supply is up 10pc compared to the previous year, the third highest yearly rate for the last 30 years, and over 2.2m extra homes have now been delivered since April 2010."