The housing market has reawakened in many parts of the UK as consumer confidence has improved and long frustrated house purchasers have sought to trade-up or buy their first home. This revival has heightened the debate over the consequences that long term under-supply of new homes is having on the cost and access to housing and the threat to sustained economic growth.
New housing volumes have been increasing. The government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) appears to helping developers to bring more sites forward for development. However, the rising volumes are also amplifying the debate over the location of new developments. Demand for development sites is strong and set to grow even further as the UK economic recovery gathers momentum. As demand grows, potential pressure on greenbelt locations is likely to intensify.
Glenigan analysis of recent planning applications for English greenbelt sites in the report Greenbelt Under Development, prepared exclusively for The Daily Telegraph, reveals some striking trends. While on the face of it, overall greenbelt planning applications and approvals have been relatively stable over the last five years, the number of residential projects securing approval is on the rise.
In reality greenbelt land has never been a ‘no development zone’. Overall, some 4,700 projects secured full planning consent during 2013/14; a 16% increase on 2009/10, but 7% down on the 5,050 approvals granted in 2011/12. The vast majority of approved planning applications are for non-residential schemes, with 72% of planning approvals in 2013/14 for non-residential developments. Farm buildings accounted for a quarter of all planning consents.
However, a growing proportion of projects are for new residential developments - especially for schemes of three or more units. Last year saw the approval of 5,600 new homes on the greenbelt, compared to just 2,260 in 2009/10, a 148% increase over the five-year period.
Of these, 834 projects in 2013/14 were for one or two unit schemes, typically in-fill and ‘self-build’ projects. This compares to 657 in 2009/10. Developments of three or more homes account for a growing majority of residential units built on greenbelt sites. In 2009/10, 87 projects secured approval for 1,600 homes. Approvals have risen progressively over the period with 227 projects approved in 2013/14 - a 161% rise over the five-year period.
Furthermore, the average size of the successful projects has risen. A total of 4,773 homes were approved in 2013/14, a 198% rise on five years ago, with the average number of units per development rising from 18 to 21 units.
The success rate for new build residential planning applications for three or more units on greenbelt sites over the last five years is 62%, slightly lower than the English average of 69% for residential applications. This approval rate appears to be in part attributable to a lower proportion of applications being withdrawn (7%) than the national average (12%). In contrast, the refusal rate is higher, at 31%, compared to the English average of 19%.
Strikingly, the approval rate appears to be higher for the larger developments. As a result, on a unit basis, three-quarters of residential units were approved during the five years to 2013/14, with only 18% refused. The lower withdrawal rate for greenbelt schemes is likely to reflect the complexity and cost of successfully bringing forward a greenbelt site into development, with developers only advancing projects that they believe have a good chance of success.
Glenigan analysis shows that greenbelt sites still account for a very small proportion of all residential planning approvals. In 2013/14, 1.6% of planning approvals for schemes of three or more homes were on the greenbelt land. However, the number of new homes involved is growing. As the economy recovers and demand for new homes increases, so will the potential pressure for the release of more the greenbelt sites.