When we started putting together our preview of 2005, we didn’t pre-judge the issues.

We asked Barratt’s David Pretty, Wilson Bowden’s Ian Robertson and Miller Homes’ Tim Hough to tell us what their biggest concern was for the coming year. With one voice, these industry leaders replied: planning.

Like bad weather and high interest rates, planning is one of housebuilding’s constant bugbears. But the pleas now being made by the industry’s top chief executives are heartfelt. While the government is exhorting the industry to build more homes, the planning system is preventing it from responding.

The government recognises the imperfections of the system, and that is why it is attempting to transform it. Changing the system was never going to be easy: it took 18 months for the Planning Bill alone to make its way through parliament. The ultimate promise from the government is that one day the system will be faster, fairer, more efficient and more open.

That is cold comfort for a housebuilder facing a 60-week wait for a site visit on a planning appeal right now. There is no getting away from the fact that, for next year at least, the industry is going to have a tough time as it adjusts to the new system, while ringing out the old.