Government’s 3 million homes target suffers blow as starts look set to fall behind completions

The number of homes being started in England is poised to fall below the number being finished for the first time in 10 years, dealing a blow to the prime minister’s pledge to build 3 million homes by 2020.

Figures released last week by the communities department show that in the 12 months to June the number of homes being started on site fell 8% to 168,800. Completions rose 2% to 168,200.

If the government is to meet its 2020 target, it will require 240,000 homes to be built per year by 2016.

Alan Cherry, chairman of Countryside Properties, which builds 3,000 homes a year, was unsurprised by the figures. He said: “It is largely because of what housebuilders have been telling the government for a while: it simply takes too long for us to obtain planning consent.

“If these came through two months earlier, housebuilders could increase the production rate by 25-30,000 homes a year.”

Cherry also pointed out that the decline in starts came alongside a continued increase in the proportion of homes built on brownfield land. He said this resulted in a more complex planning process.

He added that Countryside built 93% of its homes on previously developed urban sites. This is well above the government target of 60% of new homes to be built on brownfield land.

Commenting on the fall in housing starts, a communities department spokesperson said: “[These figures] pre-date our housing green paper proposals and simply justify our ambitious building targets. In recent years, the level of starts has exceeded completions and the fall in starts may well be a return to the long-term equilibrium.”

Meanwhile, the government has moved to dispel further uncertainty surrounding the senior management of its key housing delivery agency.

The communities department confirmed last week that Peter Dixon, chair of the Housing Corporation, would remain in the post for a further two years from the start of October, or until the formation of the new homes agency to replace the corporation and regeneration agency English Partnerships. Dixon had been due to step down after two terms at the helm.