Ecobuild latest: Berkeley chairman takes aim at planning regulation

Chairman of Berkeley Homes Tony Pidgley has called on the government to slash more red tape which he said was clogging up the planning system.

Pidgley said the government should use the opportunity presented by the launch of the recent housing white paper to consult widely with the industry and streamline regulation.

Speaking at the Ecobuild conference in London, Pidgley said the length of time it takes for developments - and in particular section 106 agreements - to be signed off was “a crime”.

He said: “Going back to planning, we should have a democracy about it [planning], but once planning has been decided it’s decided. We may talk about affordability and place-making but to spend between one and three years signing section 106 documents is a crime when society has a housing crisis.

“We should have a call to action for the government to deal with the red tape, and put the onus back on industry to raise standards. We don’t need 800 planning conditions for the 1% of developers who misbehave - let’s find that 1% and punish them”.

Pidgley’s comments were echoed by Dan Batterton, fund manager at Legal & General (L&G) investment management, which is investing in a new wave of build-to-rent homes in several locations in the UK.

Batterton said: “The planning system is really difficult to navigate, it gets people to the lowest denominator and stops people innovating. In a few year’s time there will be thousands of homes build by pensions. At the moment though there are only one or two.”

L&G has invested in a huge off-site factory in Yorkshire to deliver its new homes, and aims to deliver 3,000 per year from a staff of 500.  In response to the white paper and communities secretary Savid Javid’s comments on the “broken” housing market, Batterton added that he felt the current market wasn’t in itself broken, but that new models would help alleviate pressure on traditional housing delivery.

“It’s a different approach to building homes, the current business model isn’t broken, it works we just need additional models. We are looking at 20, 30, 40 year investments in a single site, it has an impact on how we are going to approach a site and what we build.”

‘Small builders are being locked out’

Tony Pidgley has said small housebuilders are effectively “locked out” of the housing market.

Speaking at Ecobuild, the chairman of the house building giant said the amount of paperwork needed for any small business is stifling competition.

Pidgley said: “When I first started I would go and see a planner, six weeks later I would get my ticket and I could run a business. You can’t run a business today. Barriers to entry are enormous, banks are charging one percent on the way in and one percent on the way out.

“When I walked into my bank manager I didn’t need a 76 page document I needed a two page letter that was it.

“I think [the government] lock [small firms] out and make it easier for firms like us and make it easier for us to grow.”

Pidgley’s comments were echoed by urban designer and former Prince’s Foundation chief executive Hank Dittmar who added: “Breaking up sites into smaller plots and encouraging self and custom build developments and re-invigorating public sector building [will help].”