Housing review offers streamlined planning in return for improved customer standards and land tax
Housebuilders face an investigation from the Office of Fair Trading within three years if they do not improve customer satisfaction levels, Treasury adviser Kate Barker warned this week.

The warning came in Barker's report into the undersupply of housing in the UK, which was commissioned by chancellor Gordon Brown last April.

The review makes a series of recommendations, including: streamlining the planning system; levying a tax on the uplift in land value triggered by a grant of planning permission; and addressing the industry's skills shortage.

Speaking about poor customer satisfaction levels, Barker said: "If, in three years, progress in customer satisfaction is not satisfactory, then the Office of Fair Trading should conduct a wider review."

She said the House Builders Federation should develop a code of conduct to improve customer satisfaction records.

Her comments came after the Housing Forum's latest national customer satisfaction survey showed last month that housebuilders had not improved on their performance since 2000.

The increased customer satisfaction level is one of the provisos demanded of landowners and housebuilders as a quid pro quo for a more permissive planning system.

The proposals also include challenges for housebuilders

Ian Robertson, Wilson Bowden

The streamlining proposals recommended that the section 106 agreement, under which councils can demand that housebuilders provide local amenities, should only apply to social housing. The two-stage system of obtaining outlined and detailed planning approval would be streamlined into a single level of approval. Barker said: "This would make approval speedier and more certain but would not remove local and democratic control."

Barker also recommended that there should be a stronger role for regional planning bodies with an independent regional planning executive established to advise on affordability.

Barker's other key proposal was to introduce a land tax, as tipped by Building last week. Although she refused to be drawn on the details, it is expected to be a low flat rate and will be used to fund key worker housing and infrastructure in the northern and southern sustainable communities growth areas. Barker said: "Landowners and housebuilders can expect to make significant profits from the new system."

In return for these profits, the review recommends that the Construction Industry Training Board and the HBF work together to increase the number of apprenticeships from the current level of three for every 100 workers.

The review says: "This strategy should also explore whether the appropriate number and range of courses exist and whether housebuilders are investing sufficiently in their own workforce training." It adds that housebuilders have to acquire the skills needed for modern methods of construction.

Housebuilder Wilson Bowden said it welcomed the Barker review and its suggestions on how to tackle the shortage of land and delays in the planning system.