Secretary of state's proposal for DETR to vet large greenfield developments is recipe for "bureaucratic muddle and delay", say housebuilders.
Housebuilders have criticised proposed rules, announced last week, that mean that housing on greenfield sites will have to get planning approval from the DETR rather than local authorities.

The changes will mean that greenfield developments of more than 5 ha or 150 homes will have to be cleared by central government, signalling the government's determination to keep a tight rein on greenfield development.

Housebuilders have criticised the proposals for lacking clarity. Ian Roxburgh, group planning director at Wimpey, said: "The plans are a recipe for bureaucratic muddle and delay. What are the rules? Will a site already cleared by a local authority have to go through the cycle again?" He added: "It is unfortunate that the secretary of state is not prepared to leave local authorities to implement guidelines on greenfield development."

Stuart Milligan, Redrow's group planning director, was equally critical. "There is obvious potential for a log-jam to develop in the short term. This new requirement implies that numerous development applications will suddenly land on the minister's desk. Do they have the resources to avoid costly delays?"

Not all housebuilders were critical, however. Alan Cherry, chairman of Countryside Properties and the sole housebuilder in Lord Rogers' urban taskforce, said: "The requirement may not be welcome by all housebuilders, but it could be beneficial in the long run. Once the DETR gives clearance, a development may receive a more speedy response through the planning process." The new regime is contained in the final draft of PPG3, which was launched by deputy prime minister John Prescott.

Also contained in the guidelines are calls for more high-density development based around the Georgian "square and terrace" model. For many developers, this may mean a reassessment of some developments.

Redrow's Milligan said: "We have a number of larger sites with planning consent and we will now be redesigning elements of these to increase densities."

However, Milligan did not expect the cost of redesigns to be significant. He said: "A lot of what is contained in the final PPG3 has been well trailed, and we have prepared in advance. Three or four years ago, we employed two regional architects to focus specifically on increasing densities."

Andrew Wiseman, chairman of Furlong Homes, said: "We will be contracting out any new designs we have to make. Any overheads will be borne by architects." But Wiseman warned: "Architects capable of producing high-quality, high-density designs are thin on the ground."

John Calcutt, chief executive of Crest Nicholson, said: "Squares and terraces are obviously the way forward. The extra cost of new designs won't be significant. We are developing a number of standardised models."