Gridlock fears as number of schemes granted in last quarter falls below level seen in depths of covid crisis

The number of major residential planning approvals granted has fallen to its lowest level for a decade according to the latest official figures.

Quarterly statistics from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities show that just 1,009 major residential decisions – those for 10 homes or more – were approved in the April to June quarter of 2022, the lowest figure since the third quarter of 2012.

Planning approval stamp

The data shows the tally of approvals is lower even than the number of approvals granted between April and June in 2020, when much of the housebuilding industry shut down, and the planning system had to move wholly online in the wake of the onset of the covid pandemic.

The figures come amid increasing concern over the operation of the planning system, which has seen its funding cut drastically over the last decade. Added to this have been delays caused as many local authorities have stopped progressing pro-housing local plans in the wake of the government’s U-turns on planning reforms, amid speculation they will be permitted to reduce housing numbers.

The numbers from DLUHC show that just 1,261 major residential decisions were taken in the latest quarter, down 14% on the same period last year, and only marginally ahead of the 1,248 recorded in the same period in the covid affected 2020 year.

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However, because a greater proportion of applications were refused in the latest quarter than in 2020 – only 80% were approved compared to 82% in 2020 and 2021 – the number of permissions is even lower than the 2020 figure.

The number of permissions for minor residential applications is also at the lowest point since 2012, with just 7,715 approvals, while decision made under planning performance agreements or extensions of time were also sharply down.

The figures also indicate a continued struggle by planning departments to take decisions as quickly as they are required, with the proportion of major decisions made within 13 weeks dropping to 84%, down from 85% at the same time last year. Earlier last year, speed of decision-making had dropped to its lowest level for five years.

Overall, DLUHC said the number of planning applications of all kinds received by planning authorities fell by 17% year-on-year, while the number of decision taken dropped by 12%. For the year to June, DLUHC said, the number of residential decisions fell by 6%.

Dorian Payne, director of property developer Castell Group, said the figures showed the UK planning system was currently an “omnishambles”. He said: “Obtaining planning permission is more of a ‘submit and cross your fingers’ approach.

“The public sector planning system is severely under-resourced and any decent planning officers can make significantly more money in private practice. We need more houses, but the planning system is part of the problem not, as it should be, the solution.”

The government has promised to bring forward major planning reforms in the autumn, however the development industry has raised concerns after new prime minister Liz Truss promised in her leadership campaign to abolish “Stalinist” top down local housing targets.