|The former Denholme Velvets site|
The analysis by Shelter and the House Builders Federation shows that 40% of homes granted planning permission in England go unbuilt. This equates to more than 380,000 homes between 2011 and 2019.Sadly Shelter's Director, Polly Neate, goes on to say that this finding proves how the problem isn't planning but rather that government isn't giving her friends in the social housing sector billions with which to build houses. And, yes, there's an argument to be had about funding for social housing, but for the UK's biggest and most influential housing charity to be opposing planning reform is both shocking and unforgivable.
More interesting though is to understand why so many planning permissions lapse. I'm sure the anti-capitaist mob will be quick to point at the big housebuilders but this really isn't the case. We know there's an issue with build-out rates on larger housing sites but it's nonsense to say that companies who exist to make money from building houses are going to let expensively obtained planning permissions lapse. So the problem lies elsewhere.
Let me give you a couple of examples of sites that obtained planning permission but it subsequently lapsed leaving the houses unbuilt and the sites empty. And in doing this perhaps we'll remember that this is just another example of how our land market is distorted by the planning system.
Cullingworth used to have a railway station but the line closed in the late 1950s and the land and sidings at the station were sold off. The Cullingworth land was bought by a man called Billy Webb who proceeded to run his chicken slaughterhouse and pet food businesses from the land. In the 1990s the pet food business closed and the chicken factory was sold off leaving redundant buildings on the site of the old sidings. Eventually, the site was cleared and planning was sought and given for the development of 80 or so houses plus a care home. The applicant wasn't a developer and had no intention of building these houses - all they sought was a permission so as to make the site more attractive to a buyer. No buyer came forward (maybe the new owners wanted too much money) and the permission lapsed. And, of course, under the planning system that Shelter's director thinks isn't a problem, there's no guarantee that a new application will be granted permission.
This brings me to a second example. The A629 Keighley to Halifax road passes through the village of Denholme and, as you head out across the high moor from that village there's a site that used to be a textile mill owned by a company called Denholme Velvets. When the mill closed it's owners applied for permission to demolish the buildings and build some houses. This permission was granted, the owners demolished the mill, took away the valuable Yorkshire stone, and looked for a buyer. This was around the time of the financial crash so, surprise surprise, no buyer came forward, the site remained a derelict mess and the planning permission lapsed.
The mill site is in the green belt meaning that when Yorkshire Housing (one of those social housing companies Polly Neate likes) applied to build some affordable housing on the cleared space where the mill once was, they were refused - by the council, on appeal, and in a subsequent amended application. The refusal was because the new housing would spoil the openness of the green belt. The land (it's the picture at the head of this post) sits there growing buddleia and fire weed among piles of rubble while we're told there's a shortage of affordable housing.
Around Bradford you'll find dozens of sites with a similar history - old industrial land cleared of it's valuable stone and left to grow weeds because either the owner wants too much money or else building houses is simply not viable give expectations about decontamination, services and highways. I know of one social housing developer who, having built a mixed tenure estate in inner city Bradford, found that the market housing part of the development wouldn't sell. Despite zero land costs (the social housing company owned the land), the cost of building a family home was higher than similarly sized or even bigger homes in the area were priced on the market. Those homes are now rented out.
Time and time again assorted NIMBYs tell us that we should build on these 'brownfield' sites before a single turf of their precious green fields is dug. And shamefully, people like Polly Neate, indulge such NIMBYs by promising that houses for poor people would be built on these brownfield sites using lots of lovely government cash. The poor people don't get to live in nice suburban communities with good schools and great local amenities, just as before they get dumped in poorly serviced, over-dense inner city estates away from the nice places where the NIMBYs (and probably the executives of big charities like Shelter) live.