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Developers in Kent criticise the Government's housing white paper

By Chris Price

Developers have criticised the Government’s long-awaited white paper on housing saying it is overly protective of green belt land and could “suppress house building”.

The document sets out a range of measures to reduce the obstacles to construction of new homes and help local authorities, developers and small builders.

It aims to help groups like first-time buyers, who are struggling to get on the housing ladder, with the average property costing eight times more than average earnings – an all-time record.

Family homes are becoming increasingly unaffordable in Kent

Family homes are becoming increasingly unaffordable in Kent

However, the white paper has received a lukewarm reception from some parts of the development world.

John Elliott, managing director of Tonbridge-based Millwood Designer Homes, criticised proposals to require developers to start building within two years once planning permission is granted, rather than the present three.

He said: “This is fraught with danger and will suppress housebuilding rather than ensure the Government’s housebuilding targets are achieved.

“Once planning has been granted on a site, it can take 18 to 24 months before the planning conditions are satisfied, and to ask housebuilders to spend huge sums to secure planning over sometimes several years for councils to then decide the development is not valid on the new timetable, is unacceptable.”

John Elliott, managing director of Millwood Designer Homes

John Elliott, managing director of Millwood Designer Homes

Mark Quinn, managing director of Canterbury-based developer Quinn Estates, described the white paper as “a sticking plaster to a large wound”.

He said: “It also does not address the issue that some greenbelt is higher quality than others. Some has been decimated by roads and it is nuts not to build on it.

“We need to protect the areas which are beautiful but they have been telling us to build on brownfield for 20 years and there is very little brownfield left.

“Families don’t want to live in tower blocks. They want to live somewhere where their kids can go out and play.”

The Government aims to tackle the high cost of renting by amending planning rules so councils can proactively plan for more long-term Build to Rent homes, where tenants pay discounted rent so they can save for a deposit to purchase their home.

Quinn Estates managing director Mark Quinn

Quinn Estates managing director Mark Quinn

Yet there were calls to stimulate private sector investment in the rented sector to deal with the housing shortage.

John Eastgate is sales and marketing director of Chatham-based OneSavings Bank, a large buy-to-let lender which owns Kent Reliance. 

He said: “Investment in all types of property is the only way we will meet the needs of the UK’s growing population, so the government’s commitment to support more institutional investment for build to rent is another important policy milestone.

“We need to protect the areas which are beautiful but they have been telling us to build on brownfield for 20 years and there is very little brownfield left..." - Mark Quinn, Quinn Estates

“Recognition of the importance of the private rented sector is welcomed and will hopefully see a change in focus for the buy-to-let market, from one of intervention to one of encouragement, and an end to the stigma and negativity directed at landlords who will now, as ever, play such a vital role.

“We need to see consistent support for the sustainable growth of the sector, coupled with measures to ensure it delivers high quality housing that meets the needs of tenants.”

However, some developers were more positive.

David Thomas, chief executive of Barratt Developments, which owns Sevenoaks-based Wards Homes, said: “We welcome the continued government focus on tackling the housing shortage and we’ll support any policies aimed at speeding up the planning system and bringing forward more land for new homes – particularly in areas of high demand.

“Housebuilders have an important role to play in building the homes the country needs and over the last five years Barratt has increased the number of homes it has built by more than 55%.

"But it is also vital that as the quantity increases, the quality of new homes doesn’t suffer.”

Shahan Lall, managing director of Maidstone-based property developer Lall Group, applauded the Government’s plans.

He said: “There is a particular shortage of affordable housing for first time buyers in Kent.

“Anything that speeds up the planning process, or reduces the red tape developers face should filter through to help tackle the huge demand.

“It is only when there is greater supply of new homes that prices will finally ease for young professionals looking to rent or buy in Kent.”

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