Councillors agree on housing crisis severity, SEC Newgate finds

SEC Newgate's National Planning Barometer raises alarm bells into the failure of the planning system and wider housing market to deliver essential housing.

SEC Newgate's National Planning Barometer 2024 survey has found that a significant number of councillors agree that the nationwide housing crisis needs to be tackled | BTR News
SEC Newgate's National Planning Barometer 2024 survey has found that a significant number of councillors agree that the nationwide housing crisis needs to be tackled.

Communications and advocacy group SEC Newgate has released insights from its recent National Planning Barometer, which this year is supplemented by in-depth interviews with 21 planning and development specialists across England and Wales.

The survey of 416 planning committee members conducted by SEC Newgate highlights the dire state of the housing market and reveals the complexities and challenges faced by the planning system. The consultancy has also identified any opportunities for driving change and easing pressure.

The 2024 survey found that two thirds of councillors rate the degree of the housing crisis in their local area as severe, marking a significant increase from 2023, while just over half of respondents perceived there to be a severe housing crisis.

Three quarters of councillors say this severe crisis has worsened over the past 12 months, both nationally and in their local area, while just 1% of councillors think the housing crisis is easing.

However, despite these concerns, the findings indicate a growing disconnect between councillors’ perceptions of how to best deliver new housing. While a large majority of councillors say they believe that their local planning department has high expertise (85%), a similar amount (80%) admits to voting against their planning officer recommendations in the last 12 months, with 46% voting against them three or more times.

30% of councillors listed housing as their top priority, with 70% rating it among their top five priorities, well ahead of any other issue. Despite this, delivering on housing targets is a much lower priority – with less than one in ten councillors (7%) stating that they are primarily focused on delivering housing targets, while 55% support the government’s shift away from mandatory housing targets.

“We know the housing crisis is only getting worse but the findings in SEC Newgate’s latest National Planning Barometer send out a stark warning that we’re in the eye of a perfect storm and at risk of total housing failure without significant interventions. It’s all too easy to blame the planning system. That it’s broken is not in dispute, but it alone is not to blame for the failure to deliver homes.

“Public policy, government funding, market provision, community interest and discretionary decision-making at planning committees are all at play in the response to the social and economic need for homes. The actions and agendas of multiple actors make the issue of housing delivery a highly complex one to grapple with, and there is no silver bullet. We’re at a tipping point and need change from all those working to deliver the homes the country needs.”

Perry Miller, Head of Advocacy Local, SEC Newgate

Recetly launched at UKREiiF, SEC Newgate’s National Planning Barometer 2024 also finds an overwhelming majority of councillors are not in favour of government proposals to publish league tables of local authorities’ planning performance, with 81% saying these would have no influence over their decision making. Just 4% said the publication of league tables would encourage more approval of schemes at committee.

Alongside this data, the National Planning Barometer 2024 also found that affordable rent and social rent are perceived by councillors to be the most needed type of housing in local authorities, with both cited by eight in ten respondents, while sheltered accommodation is also cited as a key priority by 43%.

Lower on the list of housing needs are private rentals and open market housing. These were felt to be needed by just under a quarter of councillors, however, open market housing is deemed to be a more urgent need according to councillors from London (59%, vs 22% all regions).

Claims of lack of viability by developers, alongside a lack of funding for affordable housing are viewed as the key obstacles to the delivery of affordable housing, while slow build out by developers means that community opposition and a lack of suitable sites are seen as lesser but critical challenges to wider housing delivery.

Half of the councillors surveyed in the study point to increasing workload and resourcing issues as being key barriers to determining plannings applications. However, the participants and stakeholders interviewed expressed a strong call for positive change to drive greater efficiency and collaboration in the planning system.

They called for greater consistency on national planning policy with a return on delivery of housing targets, better preparation of Local Plans that respond to local housing needs in a strategic and timely fashion, the housing crisis to be tackled by identifying and delivering different types of housing to meet local needs, recognition that planning department resourcing is a key contributor to the housing crisis, and that more funding is crucial to solving this.

Supporting this, they also called for broader recognition of the market factors impacting housebuilding, earlier and more transparent communication across the planning system – especially between developers, planning departments and councillors, an increase to public engagement in local plan making and specific development proposals, ongoing training for planning committee members on current planning policy and processes, the material impact of application refusals, and of out-of-date Local Plans to be highlighted, and better use to be made of industry best-practice, including design guidelines, to support application development.

“The golden thread running through our participants’ call for change is the need for better communication between parties. We would echo that and add to it: trust and responsibility. The planning system is far too adversarial in its approach. Community consultation works so much better when residents are properly informed, while developers could bring the community on the journey earlier in the process, seeking genuine input into their evolving designs and listening to what residents actually want. Councillors do have a difficult job: one eye on the housing numbers and another on sentiment. Understandably, that can lead to caution around engaging applicants. But it would be beneficial for councillors and developers to have better communication through the process, alongside planning officers.”

Perry Miller, Head of Advocacy Local, SEC Newgate