The article “Big drop in construction orders puts housing plans at risk” (9 November, page 12) reported that an 8% fall in construction orders and 12% decline in the housing sector has cast doubt over whether Gordon Brown will hit his ambitious housebuilding targets.

While this might come as a surprise to some, it cannot be new news to those of us working in the sector that Brown’s delivery targets may not be met. With Bovis Homes and Redrow following Taylor Wimpey’s lead in announcing profit warnings, it seems the credit crunch is finally making its presence felt, and the outlook for the housebuilding sector is decidedly gloomy.

But the reasons for this pessimism are more pervasive than the economic downturn. An industry roundtable that we convened identified one of the most significant obstacles to successful delivery as being the complexity of the local authority planning system. Councils are chronically understaffed and constricted by a ream of internal “efficiency” targets that serve only to lengthen the external planning process. Those councils that are given low levels of delivery grants are unable to attract or resource new staff and do not have the capabilities to deal with the substantial evidence base demanded by the planning system.

We also face a serious lack of available land and, as yet, no decisive solutions have been proposed to remedy this. Of those options that have been discussed, releasing developers’ landbanks and government land would provide for only short-term sustained building. Greater incentives are needed for developers to approach the remaining, costly brownfield sites.

Consideration must be given to the role of existing stock, which represents 90% of the homes of the future and which can help to substantially increase housing density at no extra cost to the public purse. Although by no means a comprehensive solution, taking this stock into account will at least enable us to approach Brown’s targets armed with an accurate perspective on the sector.

Mash Halai, partner, John Rowan & Partners