Cheshire East points finger at ‘land-banking’ housebuilders

Cheshire East Council plans to write to ministers and meet with local MPs in a bid to get the Government to apply pressure to developers to deliver houses on land where they have planning permission.

The council said that since 2012 it has approved 12,500 homes, but only 3,300 have been delivered.

Cllr Rachel Bailey, Cabinet member in charge of the local plan, Cllr Ainsley Arnold, Cabinet member in charge of housing and planning, and Mike Suarez, chief executive of the council, have released a joint statement in which they outline “frustration that some developers are land-banking large plots with planning approval for houses and seeking to snap up more greenfield sites, waiting until the market picks up”.

The authority wants to persuade the Government to create regulations which force developers to either achieve certain build rates or lose their planning permissions.

Cllr Bailey said: “I believe we need to turn the spotlight onto volume housebuilders and press them to deliver the homes that they have permission for. For too long now we’ve heard arguments from housebuilders about a shortage of land to develop on.

“Cheshire East has responded to that argument and granted permission for more than 12,500 homes since 2012, yet only 3,300 homes have been built over this period. It’s clear that housebuilders are not delivering the homes that they themselves say there is such demand for.

“The top eight housebuilders, who are responsible for 50% of new homes in the UK, need to be given incentives to build more as they are the companies with the capacity and capability to do so. If they can’t or won’t, the Government should put measures in place to encourage them or enable smaller housebuilders to fill the gap.”

Cllr Arnold, continued: “It should not be possible for developers to press for more countryside to be released for housing development when there is clearly a healthy supply of development land. We have to question and challenge the way we deliver homes in the Borough.

“We seem to be locked into a system where the delivery of new homes is largely dictated by a limited number of large housebuilders. The reality is that they largely control the supply of new housing and if they choose not to bring forward sites very quickly there seems to be very little that we can do.

“Government should consider introducing regulations that tie housebuilders to achieving acceptable build rates or, if they do not, lose their planning permissions.”

Mike Suarez, chief executive of the council, said: “The failure of developers to bring sites forward quickly where planning permission has been granted makes it more difficult for the council to achieve the required five-year deliverable housing land supply.

“This in turn results in further pressure to release additional unplanned development sites on the edges of our towns and villages, to the frustration of local residents. This cycle creates significant planning pressure without real housing growth which is the worst of all worlds.”

Commenting on the statement from Cheshire East, Gary Halman, managing partner of HOW Planning and advisor on several Cheshire housing projects, said: “There are a number of reasons why it is wrong to characterise developers as the villains of the piece. It is a common challenge by planners that housebuilders sit on land, but there is no benefit to that. Builders make a profit by developing out, it doesn’t get them anywhere to sit on a site that they may have paid millions of pounds for.

“Councils need to look at the timescales within which they are able to deliver detailed planning consent. There are currently lengthy delays over critical stages in the planning process, and this is not just true for Cheshire East. It is a problem endemic to the system, and it would benefit councils greatly if their chief executives were to commit ensuring that planning was seen as a frontline service, in order to prevent the ongoing resourcing problems.”

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