How has the Autumn Statement impacted SME developers?

Duncan Powell MRTPI, Group Planning Director at Acorn Property Group, looks back at the Autumn Statement and how politics and the planning system are holding back SME developers.

Related topics:  Planning,  Developers,  Autumn Statement
Duncan Powell MRTPI | Acorn Property Group
6th December 2023
Question 821
"This is not political, this is about ensuring Members act in accordance with planning law, not their own agenda"
- Duncan Powell MRTPI - Acorn Property Group

So, a fortnight on from the much-anticipated Autumn Statement, and the many column inches devoted to it since now we have all had time to digest the detail, what can we surmise it means for SME developers?

Well, from our perspective as a family-run SME delivering between 300 and 400 homes per year, not a lot.

Yes, the headlines about more funding for various planning items are nice (assuming they come to fruition, and assuming the detail is vaguely positive), but none of them help with the fundamental issue facing SMEs – the politicisation of the planning system.

Until we get a grip on what we see as bias by planning committee members towards a very narrow set of interests, fully fund planning departments in local authorities, encourage more people into the planning sector, and heavily invest in our appeals system, SMEs will continue to decline.

SMEs need certainty to plan and invest. All housebuilders do, but SMEs are especially afflicted by unfavourable planning decisions at committees that can add years to programmes; years of additional funding, years of delayed sales, and years of construction unable to begin.

The content of the budget does nothing to alleviate this, nor does what’s left of the finally enacted Levelling Up Regeneration Act.

A far more robust approach is needed:

The appeals system needs a lot more funding, and, more importantly, the entire cost of a successful appeal needs reimbursement. Finance costs, holding costs, consultants’ costs, landowner delays, everything. The impact of one delayed appeal on an SME can wipe it out, usually because of the NIMBYISM from a limited number of elected Members.

Committee Members need to be accountable. Where they propose or second a motion to go against Officer recommendation for approval and then subsequently lose an appeal, one strike. Do it three times and they’re out.

This is not political, this is about ensuring Members act in accordance with planning law, not their own agenda. In turn, this would give the greater certainty SMEs need, and, more importantly, give Officers back the respect they desperately need.

Funding for planning needs to be ring-fenced, and better salaries for public sector planners need to be secured to tempt people into the sector. The government had a chance to do this via the LURA. Most consultee respondents agreed planning fees need to increase, but only on the premise that application fees would go directly into planning departments. The government ignored this.

The list goes on, but the key issue is that the government needs to not only fund a better planning system but create one too.

I look forward to the revised NPPF, hopefully, sooner rather than later…

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