Letwin review slammed by Leeds councillors

Is construction slowing?
Is construction slowing?

A nationwide report into slow house building rates has been described as “poor” and “disappointing” by Leeds councillors.

Former government minister Sir Oliver Letwin led a national review earlier this year into slow building rates across the UK.

The report, which was published last month, suggested that more mixed uses – such as housing with shops – are needed for larger developments. It also claimed there was no evidence to suggest larger developers intentionally hold on to sites with planning permission without actually building on them – known as land-banking.

But members of the council’s joint plans panel believe the report showed a lack of understanding of challenges faced by northern councils.

Coun Peter Gruen (Lab) told a meeting of the panel: “Sir Oliver talked to 21 authorities, over half of them were in London and the south-east and two were in the north.

“How can anybody come up with the idea that build-out rates are not slow, and that they are not tied to the monetary return to developers?

“This is a really, really poor and disappointing report, and it’s not going to help us very much.”

Leeds City Council also claims that for every nine planning applications granted approval, only one had been completed.

A council officer told the meeting: “It still is a concern with Leeds: the slow build out rates and the large stock of planning permission that is not being commenced.

“There is a ratio of nine to one on the number of permissions given and those started.”

Members also noticed that new high-rise student properties were built more quickly than suburban developments.

Coun Peter Carlill (Lab) said: “We have lots of student flats – we need to know how many students there are so we know how many of those (flats) will be left empty.

“We are told not to question the market and that the developers will know what sells. We should be questioning whether all these developments are needed at a particular time.”

The council’s chief planning officer Tim Hill said: “I think it’s slightly more nuanced.

“House builders are not building enough to meet demand – that is the issue. The concern is, with the student housing, it may be the other way round.”

Coun Colin Campbell (Lib Dem) added: “The great and the good who are sent to sort out the housing market don’t really understand what they are doing.

“Build out rates are all to do with incentive. I am amazed at student blocks – every time we get an application in, they are on site the next week.

“But with the build out rate in East Leeds, we would be happy to see 50 (houses built) a year.

“The incentive with student blocks is to get them up, get students in and get money.”