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Saturday 9 January 2016

Cheshire East asks government to do more to ‘get Britain building’


Cheshire East Council is to ask the Government to do more to ‘get Britain building’ – to boost housing supply and relieve the pressure on greenfield sites.

The authority is to write to ministers and meet with local MPs in a bid to persuade the Government to get developers to deliver housebuilding on land where they already have planning permission.

It follows 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, rather than building homes to meet housing needs. Other sites have seen very slow rates of building completion, for a variety of reasons.

The Council’s move follows the Government’s announcement this week (January 4) that it will boost housing supply by directly commissioning smaller developers to build 13,000 new homes this year on publicly-owned brownfield land on five sites in the South East – with up to 40 per cent being affordable ‘starter’ homes.

This is part of a wider range of government initiatives aimed at ‘getting Britain building’.

The Government announcement of a £1.2bn fund to build 30,000 affordable ‘starter homes’ on underused brownfield land over the next five years is welcome news. However, it is only fraction of Communities Secretary Greg Clark’s commitment to see 2000,000 starter homes built by 2020.

Councillor Rachel Bailey, Cheshire East Council Cabinet member in charge of the Local Plan, said: “I welcome the announcement of these measures, which will deliver much-needed starter homes around London.

“Nevertheless, I believe we need to turn the spotlight on to 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 per cent 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.”

Councillor Ainsley Arnold, Cabinet member in charge of housing and planning, said: “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.”

The Government has reformed the planning system to require more land to be released for development but there seems to be no equivalent emphasis on getting builders to increase the rates they build new homes.

Council Chief Executive Mike Suarez 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 worse of all worlds.”

Cllr Bailey added: “There seems to be no defence to this argument with Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans being set aside by planning inspectors in appeal decisions to grant yet more and more sites for housing.”

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