Planners must be able to focus on new developments to increase housing supply, says Pretty

David Pretty, the retiring chief executive of Barratt Homes, has called for an “amnesty” for all domestic planning applications, such as house extensions and conversions, to allow councils to concentrate on new housing development.

Pretty outlined this idea, and a number of other measures to increase housing supply, in an interview with Building to mark his retirement this Christmas after 30 years at Barratt.

He said more than 60% of applications handled by councils were for householder consents, most of which were approved. His prosposal is for councils to simply wave them through: “A short-term measure to ease the current log jam would be to have an amnesty on current domestic planning applications and appeals.

“Planning officers should be spending their time focusing on planning applications for new homes.”

Pretty, who said he has yet to make up his mind on his post-Barratt future, added that there would have to be some safeguards to ensure that the amnesty was not abused.

He said: “It’s a bit radical, but it depends on how serious people think the situation is. If we don’t think there’s a housing problem, let’s carry on as we are.”

Pretty said increased competition for sites, resulting from planning log jams, had fuelled the recent spate of mergers between big housebuilding companies. He predicted the trend would continue: “Unless the planning system improves, we could see a situation where overall output remains static or falls. In that case, you would have five or six major players who would grow at the expense of the others with a few niche players.”

He made the following recommendations.

  • Planners to prioritise brownfield sites.
  • The government to make more of its own sites available for housing.
  • The government to take a longer-term approach to providing infrastructure.
  • Removing planning committees from the decision-making process for developments approved in councils’ forward plans.
He welcomed the government’s efforts to improve the planning system, but said the figures it was using to monitor councils’ performance failed to take into account pre-application discussions and section 106 negotiations.

But he urged the government not to embark on a further round of reform. He said: “We have had lots of planning systems in the past decade; local authorities are punch drunk.”