Procurement · 15 December 2016

Heavy-handed planning departments shut out small construction firms

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Some eight in ten small construction firms stated that local authorities failed to communicate effectively

Almost 80 per cent of small construction firms believe that the “heavy-handed” planning process of councils does not benefit smaller developers, preventing house building on small sites, according to a new report highlighting the realities of Britain’s housing crisis.

The purpose of the report, produced by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), was to set out recommendations for a “closer working relationship” between small construction firms and local authorities, and to find solutions to the UK’s shortage of homes.

Local authorities had also failed to “proactively communicate or engage” with small construction firms, according to eight in ten survey respondents.

The report also listened to the objections of local authority planners, of which almost half stated that under-resourced planning departments were a barrier to developing small sites to build homes on.

Recommendations made in the report include improving “strategic engagement” between small developers and councils through online portals and workshops.

It also made suggestions to “reduce complexity” in the planning process, tackling red tape and giving local authorities more powers to set planning fees at a local level.

However, the main proposal to create a system that works for small construction firms was to give planning departments a “cash injection”, according to FMB chief executive Brian Berry.

In a statement, Berry said that in order to support small developers and build new homes, local authorities needed powers to raise planning application fees.

“In this research, both local authorities and small business builders identify under-resourcing as a key barrier to allocating more small sites and getting planning permissions in place on them,” he said.

Despite a degree of conflict between local authorities and small construction firms, the broad consensus at central government level is that smaller developers are essential in reaching the national target of one million new homes by 2020.

In October, chancellor Philip Hammond announced a House Building Fund worth £3bn, designed to support small developers through short-term loans for manufacturing alongside long-term funding for house building.

Further to that investment, communities secretary Sajid Javid recently confirmed that a housing white paper would be released by government in January 2017, expected to give clearer details of its housing strategy.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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