Failure to hit house building targets could leader to a development ‘free-for-all’

Aerial view of Great Yarmouth, Feb 2016. Picture: Mike Page

Aerial view of Great Yarmouth, Feb 2016. Picture: Mike Page - Credit: Mike Page

A failure to build enough homes to meet government targets could lead to a building free-for-all by developers, planners have warned.

Generic shot of house building in Norfolk.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Generic shot of house building in Norfolk.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Last year only 210 homes were built across the borough, way below the annual target of 300, which has been missed for each of the past seven years.

The homes shortfall is being put down to developers not constructing homes or building them very slowly.

A report warns Great Yarmouth Borough Council that while it does not mean ‘anything goes’, it does mean that everything but the most ‘clearly inappropriate’ developments could be approved at the appeal stage, even if councillors turn it down.

This is despite the council granting planning permission for nearly double the government’s target adding to the stockpile of more than 2,500 in the pipeline for development.

Borough council leader Graham Plant said it was frustrating because the council was granting more than enough planning permissions.

Mr Plant, who is also chairman of the policy and resources committee, added: “Developers are not constructing once they have permission and we are getting penalised for non-development.

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“We need to understand why the developers are not building and then call on government to make it easier to make developers get building.”

In order to make up the shortfall, the number of houses being built annually across the borough would need to treble for each of the next five years to have any hope of reaching the target.

A report seen by council’s policy and resources committee states: “Essentially there are not enough residential planning permissions and housing allocations with a realistic possibility of being delivered in the next five years to meet the land supply ‘requirement’ for those five years.

“As an authority we will now be significantly less able to resist housing planning applications which might previously have been considered marginally unacceptable.”

The report concludes it is a problem of delivery as there are enough planning permissions being granted by the council, but they are either not being built by developers, or being built very slowly.

The slow pace of house building is one of the most significant factors affecting the future housing land supply available, because any shortfall has to be added to future targets.

If the council cannot show the government it is meeting its house building quota, then the borough’s Local Plan – which the council draws up to say where housing is acceptable and is not – will be considered ‘out of date’.

The report said residents may be concerned that the borough finds itself in this predicament.

In recent years the issue of house building has been most acutely felt in the villages around Great Yarmouth.

Martham Parish Council chairman Paul Hooper explained that because Great Yarmouth is effectively surrounded by water on three sides, the onus on house building fell to the surrounding villages.

He added: “Developers are keeping house prices high by not flooding the market with new homes. They buy chunks of land to ‘land-bank’ and only build when the price is right.

Hemsby Parish Council chairman Keith Kyriacou said villagers were not against any developments per se – but they felt their village was already getting its fair share.

He added: “Unfortunately the borough council has got its hands tied because the government are telling them to build houses.

“People are being priced out of cities like London and are seeing they can get a house for three times less in a village like Hemsby – they are snapping them up.

“But it means people in Hemsby can’t afford to live here, our kids can’t buy houses here.”

An example of what could happen is with the vast former Pontins site in Hemsby, which has stood empty for nearly a decade.

The borough council has designated the vacant holiday park in its Local Plan as being a tourist site, which was part of the reason a bid for 200 homes was turned down last year.

But because the borough cannot demonstrate a five year housing land supply, even in the council turned down a new housing bid for the site, it could be overturned at appeal.