Planning applications plunged by nearly a third in Luton during lockdown

Uncertainty around coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdown measures led to inevitable fall

Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 8:58 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 9:02 am

Fewer developers and homeowners sought planning permission in Luton during lockdown, as applications plunged by nearly a third compared to a year ago.

The Home Builders Federation said uncertainty whipped up by the coronavirus pandemic mixed with strict lockdown measures led to an inevitable fall in applications nationally.

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government data shows Luton Borough Council received 232 applications for planning permission between April and June.

Planning applications plunged by nearly a third in Luton during lockdown

That was 111 fewer than the 343 applications acquired over the same period last year – a 32 per cent drop.

In the first three months of 2020, the council received 289 applications.

The figures may include housing, office and retail developments as well as extensions or alterations to existing homes.

Across England as a whole, local authorities received 88,000 planning applications between April and June – down by almost a quarter from 2019.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation, said the national lockdown period had been tough for developers.

"It was inevitable that applications would drop, not least because a lot of builders were forced to furlough staff, but also because of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic," he added.

"For several years investment by builders in their workforce and future sites has been running at record levels.

"The Government remains committed to increasing supply still further and demand is strong, evidenced by the very strong recovery of the new homes market in recent months."

Mr Whitaker said councils’ commitment to supplying land and granting permissions quickly will be key to the industry’s post-pandemic recovery.

Luton Borough Council made decisions on 200 applications between April and June, of which 142 were granted and 58 refused.

It gave the green light to 15 applications for minor housing developments – those with between one and nine homes – and three major developments, comprising anything from 10 to 200 or more new dwellings.

David Renard, planning spokesman for the Local Government Association, said councils have kept the planning process on track throughout the crisis – including introducing virtual committee meetings – but warned the loss of planning application fees will have had an impact on revenue in some areas.

Currently fees, aimed at meeting the costs incurred by local authorities when making decisions, are set nationally.

"The Spending Review should give councils the ability to set planning fees locally, with taxpayers currently subsidising nearly £180 million a year to cover funding shortfalls," Mr Renard added.

"The fees should also help to cover the cost of wider planning functions to ensure that these can continue to support the decision and plan-making process."

An MHCLG spokesman said planning decisions have been made quickly despite the pandemic.

He added: "We’re determined to build more homes quicker which is why we are overhauling our outdated planning system and providing record investment in housebuilding.

"This includes £12.2 billion investment in affordable housing, giving £450 million to help smaller developers, and allocating £360 million to build more homes on brownfield land."