The longer the planning system goes unreformed, the more politicians seem to talk of the need for it. But just how much are the delays costing?

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng spoke of simplification of the process last week but, as some members of our forum point out, this is not the first time they’ve heard such talk.

In fact, there’s much to be sceptical about when it comes to what ministers say. Politicians who talk of the need to build no end of new houses also talk of the need to protect the Green Belt. They require developers to meet carbon reduction targets, be good boys and girls through their ESG scores and make biodiversity net gains. Not so long ago they were accusing developers of landbanking, as if the delays were caused by developers choosing not to develop.

At a talk on the evolution of The Oxford Science Park at OxPropFest on September 14, delegates heard about how simple the planning process once was. The many hurdles which now need to be overcome mean more pressure on local authority planning departments, which, in turn, leads to experienced officers leaving and the cycle getting ever worse.

The cost to developers and local authorities – and ultimately the public – must be unfathomable. Over the years governments have made various international agreements and treaties, many imposing environmental restrictions, which, when they filter through to the ground level, must be an ever-growing burden on both development and the market.

But the cost is more than financial, it’s making the entire system creak. Authorities, trying to meet housing targets, are mired in red tape and lacking the staff to do the job within the target times.

Two major applications for schemes in Caversham Road, Reading have each been in the system for around three years and one of them has outline consent.

Councillors voted to approve the 620-home Reading Metropolitan scheme in March and at the time of the approval there was great urgency on the part of developer Hermes to hurry the process so that rising costs didn’t make that scheme unviable.

The developer has not responded to our requests for an update so, as far as we are aware, the question of its feasibility remains.

Given the complexities of the system, material shortages, rising costs and the precarious global economy, you have to wonder if the combination of all this is going to bring major schemes to a halt.

If a major downturn happens, some urgency to reform the system might be a good idea.

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