London’s housing pipeline is stuttering, despite a raft of local and national government initiatives. Figures compiled by agent Stirling Ackroyd point to a sharp fall in planning approvals over the third quarter of 2015.
The research suggests that the early positive start in the year is now tailing away, with fewer schemes approved by London local authority planning committees. Part of that fall is down to a lower approval rate, with only 69% of applications approved, compared with 76% in the previous quarter of the year.
The figures also reveal which boroughs provide the greatest likelihood of having schemes approved, and those making greatest headway in the delivery of new homes.
The autumn saw just 5,740 new homes approved by London planners, down 29% on the previous quarter’s tally, and 52% down on first quarter approvals.
“Approvals simply aren’t stacking up,” said Andrew Bridges, managing director of Stirling Ackroyd. “No, No, No is being heard far too often and it can’t continue. A sustainable and realistic approach is needed in order to make sure new homes are being built – and London’s housing crisis tackled by the horns. The chancellor may have seemed to initiate the first stage of changes in his autumn statement, but in reality it’s still an overwhelming task. And tackling London’s perilous planning departments is the first step.
“Better planning measures won’t be able to stem the tide of population growth in the capital, but they can alleviate London’s housing struggles. A generation of Londoners are facing the prospect of leaving London in order to achieve homeownership and avoid vicious cycles of high rent. Action needs to be taken in order to fix this and create more choices. Planning officials need to accept that the game has changed, no longer can councils afford to pick and choose. They must be both practical and pragmatic.”
Boroughs south of the river led the way, with Southwark approving 912 units, Croydon 880 units and Lambeth 586 units in the quarter. In contrast, the boroughs with the lowest number of homes approved in the quarter were Barking & Dagenham, with seven approved, Kensington & Chelsea with eight and Havering with 20.
““It’s about time the south of the river led the way in the housing stakes,” added Bridges. “It’s exciting to see the councils in these development hotspots beginning to embrace new projects and prioritise the building of new homes.
“Driving this planning burst in southern London are substantial multi-dwelling towers, providing the maximum density of accommodation per available space. They may take longer to build, and longer to approve, but can quickly relieve housing pressures within areas once completed. It’s not just Southwark that’s benefitting from a more receptive planning atmosphere. Lambeth and Croydon have rebounded as developer havens. This are the first steps in dispelling the myth that London has no room for new homes. In fact, the capital is crying out for more homes – and they can be realised. We have identified space for half a million new homes in London and it’s up to the capital’s boroughs with the most local potential to deliver.”
The research also provided clarity on which boroughs appear most likely to approve residential planning applications. Merton passed 95% of such applications in the third quarter, while Southwark cleared 94%. Camden, Richmond, Lambeth, Westminster, Hammersmith and Haringey all approved 80% or more of applications.
A contrasting view is given by the agent’s housing completions figures. These show momentum building through the year, from 5,420 completions in the first quarter, to 5,370 in Q2 and 6,430 in Q3. Whilte the uplift is welcome, the annualised figure of 25,720 completions is well short of the acknowledged 42,000 that are required to meet housing targets.
“Amid the disappointing direction approvals took towards the end of last year, there are small signs of encouragement,” said Bridges. The south has proved it’s willing to allow a high proportion of new homes. And this enthusiasm is even spreading across the river. Haringey’s transformation in Q3 embodies what is needed in London – a new way of looking at the problem. New homes can be portrayed as the enemy on some occasions but more often than not, they aren’t the threat they are made out to be. They can be a beneficial and positive force in both communities, and across the capital.”
LPA Perspective: Stirling Ackroyd’s commendable gathering of London-wide data shows how some boroughs appear to be stepping up to the mark, others falling short. They also give a hint at how homebuilders are now moving to the outer doughnut of London, as prices continue to rise, putting new home rents – never mind purchase prices – out of the reach of most ordinary workers in the capital.
Everyone gets the problem, who will deliver the solutions? Perhaps initiatives to encourage more small builders, perhaps government initiatives to procure more sites directly. Maybe the private rented sector, with institutional investors spurred on by the chancellor hobbling small time buy-to-letters, will build further momentum.
Yet the figures also beg plenty more questions, and are probably worthy of greater study at more length. High approval rates for schemes can mean strong local authority planning teams, who negotiate hard to deliver schemes they can recommend to committees. It may also mean that committee members are able to see further than their own back yards, when reviewing housing schemes. In an ever denser capital, enlightenment is needed to see the greater good, and to understand the value – or not – of blunt instruments such as daylight calculations, when evaluating proposals.