Housebuilder which announced ambition to build 25,000 homes a year just last month is now pulling “a lot” of schemes from planning

Vistry’s pipeline of new housing schemes has become “stuck” because of uncertainty over how second staircases should be designed, the group’s planning director has said.

Andrew Taylor told Building that Vistry had pulled “a lot” of major schemes from the planning system in the past three months and was unable to submit revised designs because the firm “does not know what the rules are going to be”.

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Andrew Taylor (second from left) speaking at a Labour party conference fringe event on partnerships housing yesterday

“We’re just pausing it until we have that detail,” he said. The comments come less than a month after the firm announced an ambition to build 25,000 homes a year under its new partnerships strategy, a move which would see it overtaking Barratt as the biggest housebuilder in the UK.

Housing secretary Michael Gove strengthened proposed rules on second staircases in residential blocks in July, lowering the requirement from the widely expected 30m first proposed last December to 18m.

But the government has still provided no detail on how the staircases should be designed, meaning that builders are reluctant to put schemes back into the planning process.

It is unknown whether the government will allow pairs of staircases to be built side by side in a single core or if two separate cores will be required.

Speaking at the Labour conference in Liverpool yesterday, Taylor said all major housebuilders, particularly in London, are now facing similar hold ups while they wait for more clarity from ministers.

“It’s not just us, it’s everybody. It’s a significant issue and all we can do is wait,” he said. 

“We can encourage, and obviously we’re engaging with government. We’re engaging with the Greater London Authority and councils but they don’t know much more than we do.”

While adding additional staircases results in added cost, lost floorspace and having to renegotiate terms with councils because of resulting changes in the mix of homes in schemes, Taylor said the more serious issue was the uncertainty over how they should be designed.

“At the moment you don’t know if it’s two stair cores or stair cases so until that clear guidance comes out you’re stuck in terms of how to move projects forward.

“It’s delaying housing starts, it’s delaying housing delivery, obviously costing money, you know you can’t get away from the fact that safety is important and it’s a good thing to do and that’s what the end goal is going to be but it’s this uncertain period.”

He described the government’s move to announce the 18m threshold without providing a transition period or detailed guidance on second staircase design as “disappointing”.

He added: “I don’t know the reasoning behind it. They’re obviously just tyring to get stuff out and announce things but i think we just need those regulations to come out so we know exactly what we’re doing.”

Last month, Vistry announced an ambition to build 25,000 homes a year under its new partnerships strategy, which would make it by far the biggest housebuilder in the UK.

In interim results released in September, the firm said it delivered just 6,050 homes in the half year to 30 June.