Housebuilders are stuck between a rock and a hard place. John Prescott is blaming them for not building enough homes, while at the same time government planning policy is thwarting their attempts to do so
John Prescott appears to have it in for housebuilders. It emerged this week that Prescott turned down three developments totalling 1274 new homes shortly before last month's urban summit where he lambasted developers for not building enough new homes.

Prescott may want more homes, but his government's policies are making it impossible for housebuilders to provide them. PPG3 planning guidance introduced in 1999 is the main cause of the supply bottleneck.

The measures PPG3 calls for - well-built homes at high densities, more brownfield construction and an increase in affordable housing - has made housebuilding more costly and time-consuming. As a result the supply of new dwellings has slowed to a trickle - currently running at its lowest level since the 1920s.

Further delays in completions are arising because local authorities are not sure how to interpret PPG3. They will have to wait until Prescott's planning white paper is launched next year for clear guidance and in the meantime housebuilders are having to put up with conflicting signals from councils and the government.

For instance, at a 166-home Wimpey greenfield development in Solihull, the council said that affordable housing would not be required, but Prescott disagreed and turned down Wimpey's planning application.

The government is also in conflict with councils over the affects higher density schemes have on local congestion. Councils fear that high-density schemes in their districts will put an intolerable burden on local traffic networks.

The government's answer is to reduce the number of car parking places available to encourage homebuyers to use public transport. This is all very well in towns and cities with good transport connections, but in areas poorly served by trains and buses homebuyers will still need their cars and a lack of car parking will merely lead to clogged up local side streets.

Prescott's desire for high-density design will affect the housebuilders' ability to deliver more homes through changes to the building regulations. To ensure densely packed residents are not disturbed by noisy neighbours, the government is toughening up the acoustic regulations from July 2003.

This means that housebuilders will be forced to test new homes or construct robust new design details. Either way it will add time and expense to the housebuilding process, and make Prescott's housing targets even more difficult to achieve.