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40% of homes granted planning permission go unbuilt

Posted 04 Sep 2020

More than 380,000 homes granted planning permission between 2011 and 2019 remain unbuilt – accounting for 40% of all homes with planning consent in England - new research from Shelter shows.

The housing charity’s analysis of data from the government and the House Builders Federation reveals the backlog of unbuilt homes has grown by a further 100,000 in the last year alone. This shows planning permission is not the primary stumbling block to getting homes built – and is why Shelter is arguing that the government’s new planning reforms will not boost housebuilding by themselves.

The government’s own 2018 review found that private developers will stall construction if there is a risk of flooding the market, which would reduce the price any new homes could be sold for. It is for this reason, Shelter is warning planning reform is no replacement for government investment.

The charity is urging the government to use its upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to accelerate spending on social housing and turbo-charge construction in the face of the Covid recession. Social housing is the only type of housing that is affordable by design with rents pegged to local income, which would serve the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: "The chronic shortage of decent, genuinely affordable homes in this country is one that must be fixed. But the government’s planning reforms fundamentally misdiagnose the problem.

“The idea that the planning system is stopping homes being built is a myth. Across the country hundreds of thousands of “phantom homes” sit on sites with planning permission fully approved. Rubber stamps are no replacement for direct investment in high-quality housing.

“The government must roll up its sleeves and build the homes local communities really need, now more than ever in the face of a Covid-recession. It should spend the cash its set aside for housing that much faster and start building social homes now. The only way we are going to start building what we need is through pounds not planning.”


Notes to editors:

Notes to editor:

  • This analysis of housing supply and approvals by financial year, uses the English housing pipeline figures from the House Builders Federation and Glenigans ‘New Housing Pipeline q3 2019 Report’, and new build completions figures from MHCLG table 120.

  • We have reasonably assumed that developers take on average two years after full planning permission is granted to construct the units approved by local authorities. This means that a unit approved in 2012/13 would be expected to be completed in 2014/15.

  • Comparing 2011/12 - 2016/17 units approved with completions between 2013/14 – 2018/19, we can see that 382,225 homes remain unbuilt. This backlog of unbuilt homes has increased by 101,223 units, when compared with the same position last year (comparing 2011/12 - 2015/16 units approved with completions between 2013/14 – 2017/18)

  • Sir Oliver Letwin’s independent review of build out