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Trees and Planning: The real reason for Britain not building?

The consensus is that we are not building enough homes in this country.  The planning system is often cited as the reason, with trees an occasional hurdle.  Those of us involved in the planning process can probably cite a range of cases where an applicant has faced what may be regarded as unreasonable challenges.  For me, in my adopted county of Herefordshire, the requirement to provide a Tree Protection Plan as a condition for an approved development and, down in Swansea, where a derelict site was being regenerated, the insistence on a Landscape Statement with the nearest trees being on neighbouring land are two applications I have commented on within the last year.

Sometimes, it is planning policy being implemented too rigidly by thorough officials that inhibits the process.  One scheme I have worked on, with a site formerly owned by a Government body and long-since deemed surplus to requirements, albeit within the sensitive Brecon Beacons, remains derelict due to the requirement that any development includes allowance for employment rather than focusing on housing, regardless of the local need, as this reflects previous use.

However, I have begun to appreciate in the past few years that there is a more challenging obstacle.  Here in Herefordshire, some 2000 plots approved for development remain untouched.  I worked on one, in a village in the north of the county, with some two dozen units, guiding through the retention and management of veteran trees and even providing a landscaping scheme.  The development, locally welcomed, has been approved, yet the site remains untouched, as does the one in the Brecon Beacons.  Meanwhile, another site within the city limits, on which I conducted a tree survey last year, and for which there seems to be local concern, this time for possibly thousands of homes, may also be approved and proceed.

I recently read an article in The Metro which, for me, explained the whole situation.  There has been a decline in the numbers of houses being built, since the financial crash of 2008.  Smaller scale building companies, which tend to focus on smaller developments, especially those which fit in with local communities and villages, were responsible for building quite a significant number of homes each year.  Since the financial crash, it has been far harder for the smaller developers to get the funding needed to develop sites.  For the larger operators, funding is not an issue.  However, they have an incentive to not build too many homes, for as long as demand exceeds supply, the price for properties, and indeed of land, is maintained.  With a responsibility to shareholders, and not the national interest for homes, they are not going to increase production unless it suits them. 

Interestingly, local authorities often prefer larger scale developments, which can offer infrastructure benefits and are more efficient to administer.

There is the challenge of insufficient skilled workers to build the new homes, but, working with several developers seeking to pursue developments, the difficulties of securing funding are holding them back, and partnerships with national companies are being seen as the only way forward.